The re-opened inquest into the death of Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee is scheduled to commence at the High Court, sitting in Pietermaritzburg, on Monday,16 August 2021. The proceedings will be heard in Court A before the honorable Judge ZP Nkosi presiding.
Haffejee, a 26 year old dentist, was driving to work on 2 August 1977 when he was abducted and arrested by members of the Special Branch of the South African Police (SAP), including James Taylor and PL Du Toit. Taken to Brighton Police Station. Within 20 hours he was dead. It was alleged that Haffejee hung himself with his trousers from a grille door. He was the 45th detainee to have died in police detention.
Magistrate Trevor Blunden presided over inquest proceedings in 1978. Police officers Taylor and Du Toit testified and denied having tortured and/or killed Haffejee claiming that injuries Haffejee sustained were due to the scuffle that had ensued when he refused to enter into the car during his arrest. The State Pathologist found the cause of death consistent with hanging.
However, the Haffejee family commissioned their own pathologist, Dr David Hobson Biggs. He noted several factors that were inconsistent with hanging by suicide: “The cause of death appeared to be suffocation, rather than the sudden arterial block one would expect from a self-induced hanging; Haffejee’s neck was twisted at a strange angle; He was found in a seated position, a position from which it is almost impossible to hang oneself; He was found hanging from the lower third of the cell door, which would be unlikely in the case of suicide; Additionally, there were over 60 wounds on his body, including the removal of several pieces of skin”.
Despite the contradictory findings of the pathologists, the Court ruled that Haffejee had committed suicide. Additionally, it also found that the injuries he’d sustained were ‘due to third degree methods, were pure speculation unsupported by evidence’, and thus unrelated to his death. As a result, no one was deemed responsible for his death.
In a letter to the Natal Witness, penned in 1978, Haffejee’s mother Fatima wrote:
“I think the time has arrived for us, the blacks, to pray that God will open a door to protect our destiny from the cruel injustice of the South African Security Police. I hope our prayers are answered before it’s too late for us all. As a grieving mother I cannot forget this terrible ordeal. My heart will always cry for my son.”
Haffejee’s brother, Yusuf testified to the TRC Hearings in Durban in 1996 asking the Commission to assist the family in their quest for justice. Former Security Branch officer, Mohun Gopal testified witnessing Taylor and Du Toit interrogate, assault and torture Haffejee. He believed that the 1978 inquest evidence had been deliberately fabricated. The TRC subpoenaed Taylor who denied all allegations against him. Neither Taylor nor any of the other officers involved in the interrogation applied for amnesty.
Former Minister of Justice, Adv TM Masutha, approved the reopening of the Haffejee inquest on 18 September 2018. In August 2019, James Taylor passed away.
Haffejee’s sister Sara states, “The reopening of the Timol inquest in 2017 has given all the families of apartheid-era victims a glimmer of hope that we too would get answers on how our loved ones were murdered by the security police. Many other families continued to live without answers about the deaths of their loved ones in detention. While we are very pleased for the reopening of the inquest into our brother’s death, the families of others, such as Nokuthula Simelane and Nicodemus Kgoathe, continue to live with their pain,” she added.
Haffejee was not married. His parents, Mahomed Essack and Fatima and brother Yusuf have passed on without knowing what happened to Dr Hoosen. He is survived by siblings Ismail Haffejee and Sarah Lall.
The evidence leader is Advocate Dernardo Macdonald. The Haffejee family is represented by Advocate Anwar Suleman Jessop, Advocate Howard Varney and Advocate Zak Suleman. Counsel for the police have not yet been appointed.