Ti­mol mur­der find­ing vin­di­ca­tion for fam­ily

Long bat­tle for jus­tice in ac­tivist’s death ends with land­mark judg­ment

The Herald (South Africa) - - NEWS - Sipho Mabena

TEARS welled up in the eyes of renowned an­ti­a­partheid lawyer Ge­orge Bi­zos af­ter the Pre­to­ria High Court’s in­quest into the death of ac­tivist Ahmed Ti­mol found that he did not com­mit sui­cide but was mur­dered.

Now 88, Bi­zos was a ju­nior coun­sel in the 1972 in­quest that ac­cepted Ti­mol com­mit­ted sui­cide by jump­ing out of the win­dow of room 1026 of the in­fa­mous John Vorster Square build­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg in Oc­to­ber 1971.

“Jus­tice is some­thing you have to pur­sue. A sin­gle judg­ment can help and I want to con­grat­u­late the peo­ple‚ Ti­mol’s fam­ily‚ who took the mat­ter up‚” he said‚ bat­tling to hold back tears.

Speak­ing in court af­ter Judge Billy Mothle’s land­mark judg­ment yes­ter­day, Bi­zos said they had been work­ing on the mat­ter for more than two years‚ and he was vin­di­cated by the judg­ment.

“This judg­ment jus­ti­fies our ef­forts‚ jus­ti­fies the ef­forts of the per­sons who helped me to ex­pose eight mur­ders in [my book] which were ig­nored by the then apartheid govern­ment‚” he said.

Salim Es­sop‚ who was ar­rested with Ti­mol and tor­tured to near death‚ said it was un­for­tu­nate that those who mur­dered Ti­mol were no longer alive to face the con­se­quences for their atroc­i­ties.

How­ever, he was con­soled by the fact that Sergeant Joao Ro­drigues was still alive and that the court ruled that he be pros­e­cuted for his role in Ti­mol’s mur­der.

“Ro­drigues had the op­por­tu­nity to give in­for­ma­tion about what ac­tu­ally hap­pened. He did not tell the truth,” Es­sop said.

“As Mothle said‚ he will be un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and hope­fully he will be brought to book and pros­e­cuted – not for only com­mit­ting per­jury but for be­ing an ac­com­plice to mur­der.”

He said Ti­mol would never have com­mit­ted sui­cide and would have worn a prison sen­tence as a badge of hon­our, as he him­self had with his five-year sen­tence.

Nkosi­nathi Biko‚ whose fa­ther‚ Steve Biko‚ was fa­tally tor­tured in po­lice de­ten­tion‚ said the rul­ing re­stored Ti­mol’s dig­nity, which had been vi­o­lated.

“It will not re­sus­ci­tate his life but we con­tinue to cel­e­brate him for the con­tri­bu­tion that he made.

“He rep­re­sents a cat­e­gory of peo­ple who went through a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence [and the] of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion for their death is sui­cide.”

The SA Com­mu­nist Party’s sec­ond deputy gen­eral sec­re­tary Solly Ma­paila said they were grate­ful to those who had helped Ti­mol’s fam­ily put to­gether a solid case.

He said Ti­mol had been a lead­ing SACP ac­tivist and, im­por­tantly, it was now known he had been killed.

“No amount of lies can stick to his in­cred­i­ble con­tri­bu­tion in the lib­er­a­tion of our coun­try.”

He called on the govern­ment to ini­ti­ate a process to un­cover the truth about other deaths in apartheid po­lice cus­tody for other fam­i­lies to get clo­sure and heal­ing.

Mothle told the court that key lessons for a demo­cratic South Africa could be drawn from the re­opened in­quest.

“It should be the task of all branches of the state to be­gin to de­velop a cul­ture of in­tol­er­ance to any form of vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights‚” the judge said.

Mothle lamented that the court had to deal with the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of part of the 1972 in­quest record deal­ing with the ev­i­dence of the po­lice of­fi­cials.

“It is im­por­tant for the fu­ture that the state en­sures that the records of in­quests are pre­served‚ con­sid­er­ing the fact that the [In­quest] Act pro­vides for reopening with­out any lim­i­ta­tion as to time.”

He said the in­quest also re­vealed that there were many more fam­i­lies‚ about 65‚ who were seek­ing clo­sure on unan­swered ques­tions re­gard­ing the deaths of their loved ones while in apartheid po­lice de­ten­tion.

It was the court’s view that th­ese fam­i­lies‚ par­tic­u­larly in cases where the orig­i­nal in­quest ruled the cause of death in de­ten­tion was sui­cide‚ should be as­sisted‚ at their ini­tia­tive‚ to ob­tain and gather fur­ther in­for­ma­tion for the in­quest to be re­opened.

Mothle found that Ti­mol was pushed from the 10th floor or roof of the build­ing‚ with a clear in­ten­tion to com­mit mur­der, and that there was prima fa­cie ev­i­dence im­pli­cat­ing apartheid po­lice cap­tains Hans Gloy and Faan van Niek­erk.

The judge said the duo had been on duty and in­ter­ro­gat­ing Ti­mol at the time he was pushed to fall to his death.

“Ro­drigues‚ in his own ver­sion‚ par­tic­i­pated in the cover-up to con­ceal the crime of mur­der as an ac­ces­sory af­ter the fact‚ and went on to com­mit per­jury by pre­sent­ing con­tra­dic­tory ev­i­dence be­fore the 1972 and 2017 in­quests.

“He should ac­cord­ingly be in­ves­ti­gated with a view to his pros­e­cu­tion.”

Pic­ture: AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN

FIND­ING CLO­SURE: For­mer anti-apartheid ac­tivist and lawyer Ge­orge Bi­zos, right, is ac­com­pa­nied by Im­tiaz Ca­jee, nephew of Ahmed Ti­mol, as he ar­rives at the judg­ment pro­ceed­ings at the Pre­to­ria High Court yes­ter­day

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