South Africa judge rules po­lice mur­dered an­ti­a­partheid ac­tivist in 1971

The Guardian Australia - - World News -

An anti-apartheid ac­tivist who died in cus­tody 46 years ago did not kill him­self but was mur­dered by po­lice of­fi­cers, a South African court has said, in a his­toric rul­ing for cam­paign­ers.

The court called for an of­fi­cer in­volved in cov­er­ing up the cir­cum­stances of the 1971 death to be in­ves­ti­gated as an ac­ces­sory to mur­der.

The packed court­room in Pre­to­ria burst into ap­plause when the judge de­liv­ered his rul­ing on Thursday.

Ahmed Ti­mol, a 29-year-old cam­paigner against white-mi­nor­ity rule, was ar­rested in Jo­han­nes­burg in Oc­to­ber 1971. He died af­ter plum­met­ing from the city’s po­lice head­quar­ters five days af­ter his de­ten­tion.

Of­fi­cers from the feared se­cu­rity branch that held Ti­mol said at the time he took his own life, a ver­dict en­dorsed by an in­quest in 1972.

His fam­ily, how­ever, fought the rul­ing for decades and have cam­paigned hard to se­cure the le­gal re­view, which fi­nally be­gan in June.

“Ti­mol did not jump out of the win­dow but was pushed out of the win­dow or off the roof,” said judge Billy Mothle, read­ing a sum­mary of his 129-page judg­ment.

“Mem­bers of the se­cu­rity branch … mur­dered Ti­mol.”

The judge called for the se­cu­rity branch of­fi­cer Joao Ro­drigues, who ad­mit­ted help­ing to cover up the mur­der, to be pros­e­cuted, but he ac­knowl­edged that the men ac­tu­ally re­spon­si­ble have since died.

“Most of the main per­pe­tra­tors have since passed on [but] all se­cu­rity branch of­fi­cers re­spon­si­ble for guard­ing and in­ter­ro­gat­ing Ti­mol are col­lec­tively re­spon­si­ble for his in­juries,” Mothle said.

Mem­bers of the South African Com­mu­nist party present shouted “Viva Ahmed Ti­mol!” as the judge ad­journed the hear­ing and the pub­lic gallery burst into ap­plause.

Salim Es­sop, who was ar­rested, de­tained and tor­tured along­side Ti­mol in 1971, said Mothle had de­liv­ered “a fine, a su­perb judge­ment”.

“He con­cluded that the po­lice were re­spon­si­ble for his death … they may not have in­tended to kill him but they did have the risk of killing him by tor­tur­ing him and in that re­spect they were re­spon­si­ble for his mur­der.”

Mothle called for fam­i­lies who lost rel­a­tives in cir­cum­stances sim­i­lar to Ti­mol’s to be as­sisted in re­open­ing their cases, par­tic­u­larly when sui­cide was recorded as the cause of death.

Ge­orge Bi­zos, an anti-apartheid vet­eran who was close friends with Nel­son Man­dela, wel­comed the out­come and said the case had ex­posed how the era had been pre­vi­ously un­ac­count­able.

The judge also praised Im­tiaz Ca­jee, Ti­mol’s nephew, for suc­cess­fully re­open­ing the case. “His ef­forts should be el­e­vated as an ex­am­ple of how cit­i­zens should as­sert their con­sti­tu­tional rights,” Mothle said.

For many, the case has brought back raw mem­o­ries of apartheid. Dur­ing the re­view, the Pre­to­ria court heard from pathol­o­gists, for­mer se­cu­rity of­fi­cers and vic­tims of the era’s bru­tal­ity.

Their ev­i­dence trig­gered emo­tional re­sponses in court 2D, in­clud­ing from the fam­ily who were present at ev­ery hear­ing.

Pho­to­graph: Gian­luigi Guer­cia/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Im­tiaz Ca­jee, nephew of Ahmed Ti­mol, holds a por­trait of his un­cle. An in­quest in 1972 en­dorsed po­lice’s as­ser­tion that Ti­mol killed him­self in po­lice cus­tody.

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