On the 12th of March, Kingswood welcomed Advocate Howard Varney, who represented the Aggett family in the reopened inquest into Dr Neil Aggett’s (OK 1970) untimely death whilst in detention in 1982. Advocate Varney delivered the annual Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture, where he spoke on “standing up against injustice”.

Kingswood was honoured to hold the 18th annual Neil Aggett Memorial lecture in honour of Human Rights and Anti-Apartheid activist Dr Neil Aggett (OK 1970) who was killed while in detention in 1982 by the Security Branch of the Apartheid South African Police Service.

We paid homage to this great humanitarian and were honoured to announce this year’s recipient of the Neil Aggett Award, Leona Morapedi (Grade 11).

College Head, Leon Grove spoke about diversity being our “country’s greatest strength” and how humanity is the great leveller: “When we focus on humanity, we see that we are all interdependent — and that diversity is a living expression of difference rather than a divisive and complex force to be managed.”

Our guest speaker was Advocate Howard Varney, a distinguished legal practitioner, who has transcended as a true activist of human rights both here in South Africa and abroad. Advocate Varney is a practicing Barrister at the Johannesburg legal bar and is a senior program advisor with the International Centre for Transitional Justice. He is also an advocate of the High Court of South Africa, and a member of the Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) international board of advisors. He is a faculty member of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and is a member of the London-based Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers.

He continues to represent victims of past conflicts in the courts of South Africa to vindicate their rights. He represented the families of Neil Aggett, Ahmed Timol, and others in the reopened inquests into their deaths in detention.

Advocate Varney spoke about political interference and how powerful elements in society shamefully colluded to ensure the suppression of cases referred by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

“South Africa is a much poorer place without people such as Neil Aggett, Steve Biko, Nokuthula Simelane, Ahmed Timol, Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto, Sicelo Mhlauli, Imam Haron, Hoosen Haffejee, Ashley Kriel, Rick Turner, Dulcie September, Mathews Mabelane and many others murdered by the Security Branch. Their sacrifices paved the way for our freedoms. In these turbulent times, we could have used their wisdom and guiding hands. We take inspiration from their short lives.   

Neil Aggett was not willing to live a lie. He refused to compromise on the truth, even if it meant his own demise. He believed that he could rely on the truth that he had not committed any crime and was simply working legally to advance the workers’ struggle for social justice.”

A special thank you must be made to Advocate Varney and Neil’s family members, Jill Burger (Sister) and Mavis Aggett (Sister-in-law), who travelled from the UK and Cape Town to be at the lecture.

Thank you SABC News for the coverage of the annual Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture – may his legacy continue to be shared and inspire new generations.

Coverage of the lecture:

OnPoint interview with Mrs Jill Burger, sister of the late Neil Aggett