Former security officer describes Hoosen Haffejee’s torture as a ‘horrible nightmare’

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A former security police officer has described the torture of Doctor Hoosen Haffejee during detention as a horrible nightmare.  

Mohun Gopal is testifying in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in the reopened inquest into Haffejee’s death in 1977.  

An inquest ruled in 1978 that Haffejee hung himself in a police cell.  

Gopal is the only surviving person who witnessed Haffejee’s interrogation.   

“The only way in which I can describe Doctor Haffejee’s brutal assault, what I witnessed, was that it was like a grotesque feature of a horrible nightmare that just unfolded right before my very eyes. That is the type of assault that Doctor Haffejee sustained compared to two or three hits on the head.” 

Last month, testimony at the re-opened inquest into the death of Haffejee revealed that he could have been strangled and not died through suicide by hanging while in police detention under the Security Branch.

Engineer Thivash Moodley has testified that it would not have been possible for Haffejee to have hanged himself in the police cell.

Moodley told the court that it takes a weight of about 15 kilograms to constrict blood flow and lead to death by hanging.

He calculated that Haffejee’s head and upper body hanging from his pants would have weighed only 10 kilograms.

The court was shown crime scene pictures of Haffejee lying stretched out on the floor of his cell.

Only his head and upper body were lifted off the floor.

His pants were around his neck and tied to the lowest bar of the cell door. It was wound so tight that it had to be cut free.


Moodley agreed with medical reports that Haffejee died from strangulation.

He told the court that re-enactments of the alleged hanging with two volunteers of the same slight build as Haffejee, showed that it took quite a strenuous effort to twist and tighten the pants around their necks leading to strangulation.

Representing the Haffejee family, Advocate Howard Varney referred to medical reports that Haffejee had suffered blows to the head, as well as hard blows to the chest and stomach.

Any one of these injuries could have caused him to lose consciousness or make it very difficult for him to move, according to the experts.

Joseph Mdluli torture

Gopal has also testified that he happened to witness another detainee, Joseph Mdluli, being tortured in the security police head office in Durban in 1976. Mdluli was naked except for a plastic raincoat.  

He was hit three times on the head with a rubber truncheon.  

Gopal told the court he could not believe the official version he heard the next day that Mdluli died after slipping on a bar of soap. 

 He says a superior Joseph Moonsamy, advised him not to get involved in cases he wasn’t assigned to.

“When I saw that I went straight to major Ben and (I asked): ‘Wow, what’s this? What’s going on here?’ He said, ‘Shh, keep quiet. You work on a need to know basis, you don’t need to know. You signed on to the Official Secrets Act, and that’s it.’”