Court says anti-apartheid activist did not hang himself


A reopened trial following the death of the anti-apartheid activist Ernest Moabi Dipale has been completed in the Johannesburg High Court.

Judge Motsamai Makuma found that Dipale’s death was caused by the actions of members of the security police at John Vorsterplein, says Phindi Mjonondwane, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority.

Dipale was found dead in his cell at John Vorsterplein on 8 August 1982. He was hanging in the cell. It was six months after dr. Neil Agett’s passing under similar circumstances.

A judicial hearing, which concluded on 1 June 1983, found that he had taken his own life. The court found that no one can be held responsible for Dipale’s death.

Dipale was arrested on 5 August 1982 together with a colleague, Aaron Oupa Koapeng, by officers from the security branch. They were arrested at their workplace in Meadowlands. It was a day after Joseph Mamasela and some of his colleagues apparently attempted to kill them when they fired shots at them in Mofolo Soweto, but they were able to flee and reported the incident at Meadowlands Police Station.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola ordered that Dipale’s trial be heard alongside the Aggett case, as they both died at John Vorsterplein under similar circumstances. They were arrested under the same Terrorism Act and were allegedly interrogated by the same security police officers.

The court had to review all evidence from the 1983 case.

The information contested in court was that only three people – the pathologist, the investigating officer and the police officer guarding the cells that day – testified in the 1983 trial. However, there is no record of this testimony. So the court did not know what they said in their testimony.

Judge Makume noted that due to his height, Dipale would need a chair to hang himself, as the toilet in the cell was far from the window where he was hanged.

The judge also found that the cells were patrolled on a half-hourly basis, and Dipale would therefore have been caught if he had hanged himself.

Makume also took into account the evidence by Gary Paul Hunter, chief executive of Aranda Textile, that the blankets used by those awaiting trial were of high quality and could not be torn with one’s bare hands. So there is not any reasonable explanation how Dipale could have used the blanket to hang himself. There is also no reason why Dipale would have taken off his clothes. Dipale was only in his underwear when he was found dead.

“The NPA continues its efforts to deal with cases arising from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The NPA will study the judgment and act on the judge’s recommendations,” added Mjonondwane. The NPA has adv. Mothibe and Mlotshwa praised for the excellent work in the judicial trial.