Timol murder finding vindication for family
Long battle for justice in activist’s death ends with landmark judgment
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.”
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