MORE than three decades after the death in policy custody of Dr Neil Aggett (28), a charge of culpable homicide has been laid against a member of the security police who was allegedly responsible for his death.
Aggett was arrested 32 years ago, on November 27, 1981, and taken to the Johannesburg Central police station.
After 70 days in police custody and 62 hours of torture, he was found hanged in a cell in John Vorster Square.
Brian Sandberg, co-ordinator of the Neil Aggett Support Group (NASG), yesterday gathered with a group of Aggett’s friends at the police station to lay the charge of culpable homicide against Lieutenant Steven Whitehead.
He said it was now up to the investigation officer to decide whether it should be a case of attempted murder or murder.
He said there was an “unbelievable [amount of] evidence”, and “the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] found in its final report in 2003 that both Whitehead and Major Arthur Cronwright were directly responsible for Neil’s death”.
Despite the TRC report, Whitehead and Cronwright were never prosecuted.
Sandberg said Whitehead these days owns a security firm in Centurion and does business with the government.
NASG did not lay charges against Cronwright because they could not trace his whereabouts.
“The case is finally getting a lot of attention. The Hawks are looking at it and they are in early talks with the National Prosecution Authority.”
Aggett’s death attracted a lot of publicity, as he was the first white political prisoner to die in police custody. He and Dr Liz Floyd (now 59), his partner for eight years who was also held in custody, were both medical doctors.
Floyd yesterday said Aggett’s death caused an important change of direction in South Africa.
She said many white people were in denial about what was happening in the name of apartheid. With Aggett’s death, they finally woke up to reality.
Sandberg said he was confident the case will now gain momentum.
He said the group hoped this case would create a precedent for some 200 similar deaths.
“If we can do this, it will bring closure to all the other victims’ family members and this is what Neil would have wanted.
“His death should not be in vain.”