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Barbara Hogan haunted by document that led to arrest of Neil Aggett

Former minister of public enterprises and struggle stalwart Barbara Hogan at the inquest into the death of Neil Aggett on Wednesday January 29 2020.
Former minister of public enterprises and struggle stalwart Barbara Hogan at the inquest into the death of Neil Aggett on Wednesday January 29 2020.
Image: Naledi Shange

Former struggle stalwart and ANC member Barbara Hogan on Wednesday revealed how she was haunted by the “Close Comrades” documents she compiled which resulted in the arrest and subsequent death of Dr Neil Aggett.

Aggett, a trade unionist who was championing black workers' rights, was arrested after his name was found on this list, which ended up in the hands of security branch police.

Aggett was interrogated and allegedly tortured during his 70-day incarceration. He was found hanging in his police cell at the then John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg. The security branch said he had committed suicide, a claim his family strongly denies.

Taking the stand at the high court in Johannesburg, Hogan on Wednesday explained how Aggett, who was not a member of the ANC, ended up on the list.

Hogan believed the security branch had intercepted a mailbox she had opened at Illovo, Johannesburg, to communicate with the ANC in Botswana. The mail was usually transported by a courier who had a duplicate key for the mailbox.

Heeding her fears, she sought the assistance of Robert Adams, a contact in the ANC’s armed wing uMkhonto WeSizwe, to get help leaving the country.

“He had come back to me and said the ANC had done an assessment of my situation and agreed that at the moment, I was not in immediate danger,” said Hogan.

He told her the ANC intended to move her to a safe house in preparation for her to be moved out of the country.

Adams had told her that his superiors were concerned about the leaked communication network between Hogan and the Botswana network and wanted her to write a report on what she knew.

She wrote the report, detailing her concerns but did not put any names in it.

Adams later confirmed the report had safely been sent to ANC branches in Mozambique and returned with further correspondence from the party.

The ANC, she was told, had shared concerns about the safety of the people that Hogan had interacted with, as she had raised concerns of being followed by at least six security branch police vehicles everywhere she went for days on end.

Adams forwarded a request by the ANC for her to write another report detailing the names of all the people she had interaction with, so that they could be protected. 

“I asked if that report would be encoded. He said no, the report would be out of the country within hours. They needed the report urgently because they were concerned about certain people,” said Hogan.

Hogan said she wrote the report, naming all the people whom the security branch police may know of. Not all of them were ANC members.

“I quickly compiled the report. I was under pressure to produce the report. I myself was still worried about it. It’s still something I wish I had never written because of the consequences that it had,” said Hogan.

“I wrote [the list] and sent it through because I was concerned about these people,” she said.

The list had clearly indicated which people were under the ANC discipline and which were simply sympathisers of the then-banned ANC.

This list, which Hogan had believed was heading to ANC operatives in Mozambique, somehow reached the security branch.

Security branch officers believed they had uncovered a gold mine when they got the list.

“[Major Arthur Conwright] was jubilant. He had completely misread this close comrade document. The security police believed that they had cracked the ANC political underground, never mind that the majority of these people were white,” she said.

The security branch officers arrested several people on the list, including Aggett.

Hogan said she could not recall how she had met Aggett but she was friends with his girlfriend, Dr Elizabeth Floyd.

“I must have met him in the course of my friendship with Gavin Anderson. Gavin knew Neil,” said Hogan.

Anderson was also an anti-apartheid activist who was involved in the unions, while Aggett and Floyd were doctors who were involved in the industrial aid society.

Hogan told the court that in her interactions with Aggett, they had held tactical and strategic discussions, particularly about Cosatu, which she said was at that time taking an anti-ANC stance.

 “I never disclosed to Dr Aggett that I was a member of the ANC,” said Hogan. This was because Aggett had shown resistance to joining any political party.

“His position was, I believe, we should be fighting with the apartheid government ... but he said 'in my personal capacity, I cannot be a member of the ANC and any linkage to the ANC would be dangerous'," she said.

Aggett had believed being part of the ANC would jeopardise his trade union activities.

“His thinking was very clear and he was not a person who would just submit to seeing the way someone else did just to please them. He was a very independent thinker,” said Hogan.

Hogan, however, revealed that she had been requested by anti-apartheid activists and ANC members Jeanette and Marius Schoon to try to set up a meeting with Aggett.

She turned to Anderson, who was closer to Aggett, to try to arrange a meeting.  

“To convey the request to meet with Neil, I thought it would be better if it came with Gavin cause he was firm. If ever it came back that I had organised the meeting, it would jeopardise Neil,” said Hogan.

But Aggett, said Hogan, did not go to the meeting.

“And he was correct not to go,” Hogan said, suggesting that this would have given the security branch something to pin on him.


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