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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 577
Paragraph Numbers 185 to 194
185 At the inquest on the death of Mr Bonaventure Malaza, state pathologist Professor Taljaard gave evidence that the post mortem results were consistent with hanging by a belt. The lawyer for the Malaza family, Mr Cullabine, questioned the state pathologist about other injuries not directly related to pressure on the neck. From the position of the body, the bars from which it hung and the use of the belt, Cullabine put forward three theories of how Mr Malaza hanged himself. Either he gently lowered himself into the ‘noose’, or he let himself fall into it, or he died at the hands of the security police. Mr Cullabine tried to show that the position of the body and the arm and the injuries on the body could not be consistent with the first two theories. A matter of contention at the inquest was how Malaza came to have a belt in the cell, as these are prohibited in terms of prison regulations and he had apparently been thoroughly searched. Despite all this, however, the magistrate found that Malaza’s death was caused by hanging and that no one was responsible.
186 Another of the accused, Mr Mark Shinners, testified at the Commission’s Witbank hearings, alleging that most of the Bethal treason trialists were severely tortured:
In a sense, the trial was prismatic. It was something that took place in an isolated place and yet it reflected so much … You ended up being an accused in the Bethal trial simply because you refused to break down. You refused to succumb to the immense torture in the form of isolation, interrogation, the pain that was inflicted and in some cases even death.
187 Although the official explanation for Mr Sam Malinga’s death was suicide, Mr Shinners contests this claim:
I’ve tried to list some of our comrades who died during the situation leading up to the trial. Some of them were staying in the same sections, people like Sam Malinga … [were] taken in for interrogation. He looked very blithe in a situation where many people couldn’t even afford to smile but he was one of the rare people whose smile I can remember to this day. Hardly a week later we heard that Sam Malinga has committed suicide in detention.
188 Shinners told the Commission about the coercion that led people to become witnesses for the state, saying they knew that state witnesses had been seriously assaulted. They knew of cases where people were made to spend time in a mortuary where there were corpses of motor vehicle accident victims, and were broken down until they agreed to testify, even, in some cases, against their spouses. Shinners alleged that some of those involved in the interrogation and torture of the Bethal treason trialists were later became members of the Security Branch unit based at Vlakplaas.
189 On 5 February 1982, Dr Neil Aggett [JB00217/01GTSOW; CT00410/FLA], a twenty-eight-year-old medical doctor and organiser for the Food and Canning Workers Union, died while in detention at John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg, apparently by committing suicide. He had been detained on 27 November 1981 and was the first white person to die in police custody. His funeral was attended by between 10 000 and 12 000 people.
190 Security Branch member William Charles Cecil Smith [AM4569/97] has applied for amnesty for the torture of Dr Aggett. From 1980, Smith said, he was part of an investigation into people associated with unions that were “furthering the aims of the ANC and other liberation movements via labour unrest and economic destabilisation”. This investigation was commonly referred to as the Barbara Hogan investigation. According to Smith, the people who were arrested as a result of this investigation were tortured physically and psychologically. He personally participated in the torture of most of these detainees, including Ms Barbara Hogan, Dr Liz Floyd, Mr Carl Niehaus, Mr Michael Jenkins, Mr Jabu Ngwenya, Mr Keith Coleman, Mr Suresh Nanabhai and others. In addition, former Security Branch policeman Paul Erasmus [AM3690/96] applied for amnesty for illegally searching Aggett’s home and supplying misinformation on the basis of which Aggett was to have been charged.
191 When the Labour Relations Amendment Act of 1981 was extended to cover African workers, giving them the right to organise but curbing political and strike actions, the former state applied more pressure to trade unions as they began to use their newly acquired legal space. Between September 1981 and November 1982, thirty-four trade unionists were detained, a number under the Terrorism Act of 1967. Dr Aggett was among sixteen trade unionists detained in terms of the Terrorism Act.
192 During the inquest into Aggett’s death, it emerged that he had made a statement about alleged assault and torture to a visiting magistrate, but that this was only investigated three weeks later. According to Aggett’s partner, who testified at the Commission’s Johannesburg hearings, the report was given back to the security police and, shortly afterwards, Aggett was found dead. Aggett was subjected to a sixty-hour interrogation session between 28 and 31 January. He had already spent two months in solitary confinement. Fellow detainees who had seen him during the last week of his life noticed a visible physical deterioration. A Mr Lerumo testified that he had seen Dr Aggett being escorted back to his cell only hours before his death, saying that he appeared to be in pain, had a spot of blood on his forehead and walked with enormous difficulty, like an extremely ill man.
193 Mr George Bizos, the Aggett family lawyer, conceded in his final argument that Dr Aggett had committed suicide, but said that Major A Cronwright and Lieutenant Whitehead, the men who had subjected Dr Aggett to intensive interrogation, were guilty of culpable homicide. He said Dr Aggett would not have taken his life had it not been for his seventy-day detention and treatment by the security police.
194 In December 1982, the presiding magistrate, Mr A Kotze, ruled that Dr Aggett’s death was not brought about by any act or omission on the part of the police, and that he had died of suicide by hanging. Describing Dr Aggett as “a man devoted to a cause”, he said that Aggett’s disclosure of the activities of his associates had “brought about feelings of insecurity in his future because of a sense of betrayal”. The magistrate accepted the evidence of more than thirty policemen as honest and reliable. The evidence of former detainees was described by Mr Kotze as contradictory and full of discrepancies.2121 SAIRR Survey 1982; Don Foster, Detention and Torture in South Africa, 1987.