Haseen Mia Haffejee died in police detention in South Africa on 3 August 1977. He was found hanging in his cell in a police station in KawZulu Natal province.
Haffejee was a 26-year old dentist and anti-apartheid activist who was arrested by the South African Police (SAPS) when driving to work on 2 August 1977.
This week a court in KwaZulu Natal has reopened the inquest into Haffejee’s death.
Haffejee was the 45th detainee who died in police detention in South Africa.
Shortly after his death, the police claimed that he committed suicide by hanging himself with his trousers from a grille door at Brighton Beach police station in KwaZulu Natal.
At the initial inquest in 1978 magistrate Trevor Blunden found that Haffejee committed suicide. The State pathologist at the time also found the cause of death consistent with hanging.
According to Howard Varney, advocate at the Johannesburg Bar who represented the Timol family in the reopened inquest, the initial inquest report in the Haffejee case ‘makes for pitiful reading’.
Haffejee’s inquest follows upon the reopened inquests of ant- apartheid activists Ahmed Timol and Neil Aggett. In the case of Timol, the judge found that Timol was pushed from the 10nth floor of John Vorster Square police headquarters in Johannesburg and did not commit suicide as was found in the initial inquest.
Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of Ahmed Timol, said while it was ‘lamentable’ that while many people died during apartheid, only three inquests have to date been reopened. Despite that he said he was hopeful that the truth which some apartheid officials tried to conceal would finally be known.
Cajee said: ‘The overwhelming evidence that would be presented by the Haffejee counsel before the Honourable Judge ZP Nkosi will clearly demonstrate that comrade Haffejee did not commit suicide but he was brutally killed in police detention.’
Haffejee’s parents and older brother, Yusuf died without knowing the full truth of the causes of Hoosen’s death.
Varney attributes the ongoing legal fight to the ‘fighting spirt’ of Fatima Haffajee, Hoosen Haffejee’s mother. Varney said : ‘South Africa failed the Haffejee family and many other families waiting for truth and justice from the apartheid era.’
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