16 May 2019

South Africa: Did Details of Neil Aggett's 'Suicide' Die With Apartheid Security Policeman Steve Whitehead?

analysis

In 1982, anti-apartheid doctor and trade unionist Neil Aggett was 'found' dead in his cell while detained under security laws at the notorious John Vorster Square police HQ in Joburg. An inquest ruled his death 'suicide'. Now his torturer is dead, and 37 years later his sister is still searching for answers.

Old hurts and heartache churned up for Jill Burger when she heard the news that apartheid-era security branch policeman Steve Whitehead died this autumn. Whitehead tortured her brother Neil Aggett, leading to his death in detention in 1982.

In an uncanny twist, the news came just the day after Burger received a call in her Oxfordshire, UK home on 26 April 2019 telling her that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had finally decided to reopen the 1983 inquest into her brother's death. But with Whitehead dead at 62, apparently from cancer, he will never have to answer.

Testimony from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings identified Whitehead, then a police lieutenant, as the man who led the torture campaign against Aggett, a doctor and trade unionist, during his 70 days in detention. Aggett, aged 28, was found hanged in his cell on 5 February 1982 year at...

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