News24 City Press
Serjeant at the Bar: Ramaphosa needs to do right by Timol, Aggett, Biko and others
……When President Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation Address on February 13, would it be too much to demand that, as a key player in the resistance to the apartheid regime and the formulation of the Constitution that he set out concrete steps to be taken this year to rekindle that hope?
LAST year on February 8 the family of martyred anti-apartheid activist Imam Abdullah Haron hosted a press conference to declare their intention to have the 1970 inquest into the killing of the imam reopened.
A year has passed and there has been significant progress regarding the reopening of the long-awaited inquest.
Substantial information has been gathered, clearly providing evidence that Imam Haron did not die by falling down the stairs at Caledon Square Police Station.
Speedy progress has been made because the Haron family has pursued a collaborative approach and does not view this inquest in isolation of the many other unsolved apartheid-era crimes. The Haron family through the Imam Haron Foundation has from the moment of declaring its intention involved, invited and co-operated with other families of victims of apartheid-era crimes.
From this collaboration the family has drawn beneficial insights from the experiences of other families, comparing notes and sharing information. The aim was to ensure that those professionals; such as lawyers, investigators and technical experts; tasked to assist in the new inquest get the maximum information and support.
Over the years, family members have kept newspaper clippings, photos, legal documents, contact details of supporters, and letters. This is a vast treasure that provides the investigators with critical information when the inquests are reopened. A simple exercise of noting all the names and places in any of the documents gets the process going for families.
This task is also a painful exercise, so the empathy and support of families with similar experience helps tremendously. The testimonies of former political detainees, who were interrogated and tortured by the same security police, play a significant role in confirming what was done to those who were brutalised, tortured and killed. In the case of Imam Haron, a certain Spyker van Wyk would threaten political detainees, claiming he was responsible for the death of Imam Haron.
Political detainees in Johannesburg were also threatened that they would be thrown out of a window, as in the case of Ahmed Timol and Babla Saloojee. These “confessions” by torturers helps to expose the truth and lay bare the pattern and practice of torture that prevailed in the apartheid-era and was callously covered up.
A thorough review of the old inquest documents also provides the investigators assigned to the reopening of inquests with all the names of those involved. Security policemen who were present and worked at the place where the interrogation, torture and murder occurred, have been called on to testify. On many occasions these officers were either in the room where impropriety occurred or were responsible for escorting detainees back to their police cells.
Another effective means have been to use current technical expertise and enhanced scientific methods to disprove the apartheid state version of events.
These include the engagement of trajectory specialists, pathologists and aeronautical specialists. The most effective way has been that of individuals providing new credible evidence. This can be in the form of exposing a security policeman living under a new name or sharing notes, kept by security policemen and handed over as evidence.
The recent reopening of the inquest into the killing of Dr Neil Aggett on February 5, 1982, has focused the nation’s attention on what transpired in his 70-day detention that ended his life. Various former political detainees and security policemen have testified. This inquest has provided a glimpse of what the apartheid torture chambers were like.
The reopening of inquests into the killing of anti-apartheid activists allow for unveiling the truth of how activists, such as Dr Aggett were killed, and may provide some closure to their immediate families. This basic need to know the truth of how loved ones lost their lives is critical information that has been denied to families for decades.
One could argue that the delays, denials, cover-ups, and political interference in finding justice, inflicts an additional ordeal that extends generational trauma onto grieving families and communities. The apartheid state machinery included, politicians, security police, magistrates, district surgeons and others who would all be aware of how these activists were killed and were part of the cover-up into the truth of how they died. These individuals, the foot soldiers of the apartheid system, did not disappear on April 27, 1994. Their employment was secured and their pensions were guaranteed.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) did not provide a blanket amnesty. The TRC referred over 300 cases presented to it for further investigation and prosecution by the National Prosecution Authority.
It is so easily forgotten how many of these foot soldiers, especially those involved in torture and killings, deliberately chose not appear before the TRC, not to tell the truth and did not apply for amnesty. These criminals need to be brought to book for the heinous crimes. There are many in our society who want us to forget that the apartheid system ever existed. They do not want us to make any reference to it; wanting us to move on.
For the families of those victims of apartheid, these injustices should not be forgotten. Justice is never to be compromised. We are fully aware that principled people who stood for justice were killed.
People of conscience will never allow history to expunge the lives and the sacrifices of these Struggle heroes who paid with their precious lives. A blanket blame on the apartheid system or the apartheid security police will not do. We need names. We need prosecutions and we demand justice. Reopening inquests will provide the answers for truth to prevail and justice to eventually be manifested.