The former girlfriend of anti-apartheid activist, Dr. Hoosen Haffejee, has been grilled in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, about the role she played in the events leading to his arrest and death in police custody in 1977.

The Pietermaritzburg High Court has re-opened the inquest into Haffejee’s death after an inquest in 1978 ruled that he hanged himself in a police cell. Madhi (pronounced: MA-ti) Benjamin has admitted that she was an informer for the security police even before she met Haffejee.

The Pietermaritzburg High Court has heard that Madhi Benjamin was a nurse at Durban’s King George the Fifth Hospital when Dr. Haffejee started working there as a dentist in 1977.

She has admitted that she was already a security police informer before meeting Haffejee.

Mohammed Bhamjee earlier testified that Haffejee joined the ANC’s military wing – Umkhonto we Sizwe – in 1973. When he started working at the hospital, Benjamin told the court that Haffejee organised meetings in his flat to recruit young people for the struggle.

Political activities

Benjamin testified that she did not love Haffejee and that she started a relationship with him to get more information about his political activities. She said she found a hidden book in which Haffejee had made notes on bomb-making and his meetings – and that she told the security police about this.

Acting for the Haffejee family, Advocate Howard Varney, grilled Benjamin about a sworn statement she made in 2018 as part of the re-opened investigation into Haffejee’s death. Benjamin said in the statement there was tension in her relationship with Haffejee because he was seeing another woman.

Varney put it to Benjamin that she wanted to get back at Haffejee, “And I want to put it to you the reason why you informed on Dr. Haffejee to the security branch is that you wanted revenge.”

Varney cross-examined Benjamin about a number of contradictions between her evidence in court and the sworn statement – one being whether she was a paid informer.

“So according to your statement you were on the books, you were receiving an income from the security branch and you were signing for it.”

“I disagree, I did not do such a thing.”

“So, you’re disagreeing with your own statement, your own statement that you made to the National Prosecuting Authority. Why is that in your statement if it is not true? I must put it to you that it is true and your denial today that you did not receive payment from the Security Branch is a lie,” says Varney.

During cross-examination, Benjamin met many of the questions with silence. She would look straight at Varney and sometimes pinch her lips. Once or twice Varney got more of a response. Like when he questioned Benjamin about a letter she wrote to a friend in May 1977 in which she refers to spying .

The court heard that Madhi Benjamin married a senior security police officer, Joseph Benjamin, not long after Haffejee’s death. Varney read from Benjamin’s statement that she and her husband discussed Haffejee’s case at the time of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

” You say that your husband says he was badly tortured because he was so arrogant and a know-it-all. And then you say that, and presumably, it’s because your husband told you, he had given Haffejee a special lesson in torture methods with a shifting spanner or a pinchie,” says Varney.

Benjamin said she cannot recall such a conversation. The inquest continues.

Haffejee inquest reopens in the Pietermaritzburg High Court: