Death of an Idealist is the story behind the only white detainee to die in the custody of South Africa's apartheid's security police. A medical doctor who worked most of the week as an unpaid trade union organiser, Neil Aggett's stark non-materialism, shared by his partner Dr Elizabeth Floyd, raised police suspicions. They were among a swathe of union activists detained in 1981 when their names appeared on a list of 'Close Comrades' prepared for ANC leaders in exile. Naidoo explores the metamorphosis of a high-achieving, sports-loving white schoolboy into the 28-year-old whose coffin was followed through Johannesburg by thousands of workers. The extraordinary funeral and the preceding national work stoppage were a watershed for trade union unity. First-hand interviews reveal the fraught, intense world of activists inside the country in the late '70s and early '80s as the ANC-in-exile pushed to link with emerging black unions. They provide historical insights into the contemporary conflict over democratic accountability. Poignant, personal stories run through this fully-referenced biography of a stoic, stubborn, principled thinker who became a militant yet gentle activist.
Neil's story is still alive - witness the South African Mail and Guardian comment: (Nov. 2012) 'One of the police interrogators singled out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as having driven Aggett to suicide, former security police officer Stephan Whitehead, would dearly like South Africa to forget what he did. Presumably using the techniques and experience he acquired as a security force operative, Whitehead has spent 30 years burying his past and reinventing himself as a commercial counterintelligence specialist. So respectable has he become that he now offers training to the South African and other African governments, a supreme irony given his former attitude to democratic rule...'