South Africans must hang heads in shame over Ti­mol

The New Age (KwaZulu-Natal) - - Opinion & Analysis - HOWARD VAR­NEY AND MUSATONDWA MUSANDIWA Ex­tract from open­ing ad­dress on be­half of the Ti­mol fam­ily by Howard Var­ney and Musatondwa Musandiwa

NEARLY 46 years ago Ahmed Ti­mol met his un­timely death at po­lice headquarters in down­town Jo­han­nes­burg. The build­ing, then named John Vorster Square, was named af­ter one of the arch-pro­po­nents of apartheid.

Ac­cord­ing to the po­lice, Ti­mol com­mit­ted sui­cide by jump­ing out the win­dow of room 1026 in the south wing of John Vorster Square. This is a ver­sion which was en­thu­si­as­ti­cally adopted by mag­is­trate JJL De Vil­liers in the first in­quest.

This in­quest re­opens just more than 45 years af­ter the first one into the death of Ahmed Ti­mol while in se­cu­rity branch cus­tody. The Ti­mol fam­ily has called for this in­quest to rem­edy a great in­jus­tice. They hold the firm view that the po­lice fab­ri­cated a ver­sion to mask the bru­tal tor­ture of Ti­mol and his likely mur­der at their hands.

They con­tend that the court, presided over by mag­is­trate De Vil­liers, ig­nored key foren­sic ev­i­dence in ex­on­er­at­ing the po­lice from all wrong­do­ing. They have had to en­dure the bur­den of this of­fi­cial false­hood for 45 years.

Milord, our in­struc­tions are to demon­strate to this hon­ourable court that the po­lice did in­deed man­u­fac­ture a ver­sion to cover up the truth of what hap­pened to Ti­mol.

We will con­tend that this cover-up was plainly vis­i­ble to any­one wish­ing to ac­quaint them­selves with the facts and the prob­a­bil­i­ties.

We will ar­gue that mag­is­trate De Vil­liers, in avert­ing his gaze from the truth, acted dis­grace­fully. He dis­graced the le­gal pro­fes­sion and his ju­di­cial of­fice. Re­gret­tably, your Lord­ship, this is not the only ex­am­ple where an apartheid-era court has acted in such a man­ner. In­deed ex­am­ples abound.

The in­quest courts in the Steve Biko and Neil Aggett mat­ters are ex­am­ples where ju­di­cial of­fi­cers read­ily ac­cepted po­lice ver­sions, even when they smacked of cover-ups.

It is not just the le­gal pro­fes­sion that must hang their col­lec­tive heads in shame. South Africa has largely aban­doned the Ti­mol fam­ily and so many other fam­i­lies of vic­tims of apartheid-era atroc­i­ties.

Why did they have to wait 45 years for this day? Why have the prom­ises of our con­sti­tu­tional compact to vic­tims not been met? Why have vir­tu­ally all the cases from the past been aban­doned by the au­thor­i­ties?

Why did the Ti­mol fam­ily have to move heaven and earth to get this in­quest off the ground? In par­tic­u­lar, why have the real de­ci­sion mak­ers be­hind po­lice atroc­i­ties and death squads not have to face jus­tice?

Why have piti­ful repa­ra­tions been handed out to aparthei­dera vic­tims and why have the vast ma­jor­ity been ex­cluded all to­gether from any ben­e­fit?

Haji Yusuf Ahmed Ti­mol and Hawa Ti­mol, Ahmed’s par­ents, are not with us to­day and nei­ther is Ahmed’s sis­ter, Aye­sha Ca­jee. Yusuf passed away in 1981, Hawa in 1996 and Aye­sha in 2013. They met their deaths hav­ing to bear a fraud­u­lent of­fi­cial find­ing that stands as the an­tithe­sis to truth and jus­tice. That bur­den must have cut deep into their lives.

Ahmed’s sis­ter, Zubeida Chothia and broth­ers, Is­mail, Mo­ham­mad and Ha­roon, thank­fully sur­vive in or­der to see some jus­tice done.

Mo­hammed Ti­mol had to en­dure tor­ture at the hands of the se­cu­rity branch and suf­fered ter­ri­bly. He was in de­ten­tion at the time of Ahmed’s death and was cru­elly pre­vented from at­tend­ing his fu­neral.

Aye­sha Ca­jee’s son, Im­tiaz, has de­voted much of his life to keep­ing the mem­ory of Ahmed Ti­mol alive. He was only five years old at the time of Ahmed’s death. Yet, Im­tiaz has worked tire­lessly to en­sure that Ahmed’s legacy shines brightly. With­out his ded­i­ca­tion to his late un­cle and his res­o­lute tenac­ity, this in­quest would not be hap­pen­ing to­day.

Milord, there are oth­ers who have made to­day pos­si­ble. Yas­min Sooka, for­mer truth com­mis­sioner, has stood by the Ti­mol fam­ily through thick and thin. She is one of the few who has stood on the side of vic­tims in their strug­gle for truth and jus­tice. Her voice is in­evitably the loud­est when it comes to ad­vanc­ing the cause of apartheid-era vic­tims.

The fam­ily’s in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Frank Dut­ton, painstak­ingly in­ves­ti­gated this case. He is in my view South Africa’s lead­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tor, and for good rea­son.

M’lord, I wish to sin­gle out one of our wit­nesses, Salim Es­sop. It was his bravery that made the re­open­ing of this in­quest in­evitable. Salim was Ahmed’s com­rade and was de­tained with him. He coura­geously agreed to re­count what hap­pened to him on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square.

He stood up to the might of the apartheid se­cu­rity ma­chin­ery, not­with­stand­ing the most bru­tal tor­ture. No hu­man be­ing should ever have to en­dure what he went through. He will be asked to en­dure that ter­ror again in this court. He truly is one of SA’s un­sung he­roes.

In his find­ing, De Vil­liers cast as­per­sions on the cred­i­bil­ity of Ahmed’s mother, stat­ing that he “only want(s) to say that I do not be­lieve that Mrs Ti­mol was a very hon­est wit­ness”.

On the other hand, he found that the po­lice of­fi­cers in ques­tion “im­press me more as peo­ple who could give the right ver­sion”.

There is con­sid­er­able irony in the find­ing of the mag­is­trate. This is be­cause, in our sub­mis­sion, the po­lice con­cocted a clumsy web of lies to cover up their bru­tal treat­ment of Ti­mol.

It will be our sub­mis­sion that the mag­is­trate, in his rush to ex­on­er­ate the po­lice, was un­able or un­will­ing to dis­cern fact from fic­tion.

In or­der to ex­plain how it was that the bruised and bat­tered body ended up 3m from the edge of the wall of the south­ern wing of John Vorster Square, the po­lice man­u­fac­tured the fol­low­ing ver­sion – no­body was tor­tured or harmed. In­deed Ti­mol was treated with “care and con­sid­er­a­tion”.

Ti­mol and Es­sop were both “valu­able as­sets which they did not want to harm”. Ac­cord­ing to the po­lice, Ti­mol who was en­joy­ing a cup of cof­fee in room 1026, was sud­denly prompted to “dive” through the win­dow by the ar­rival of a mys­te­ri­ous “Mr X” who an­nounced that one Quin­ten Ja­cob­sen had been found.

Ap­par­ently, Ti­mol and Ja­cob­sen were deeply in­volved in a “com­mu­nist con­spir­acy of sab­o­tage”. The iden­tity of Mr X could never be re­vealed be­cause of rea­sons of “state se­cu­rity”.

Not­with­stand­ing the best ef­forts of Sgt Joäo Ro­drigues, the cof­fee mak­ing clerk, who was left alone with Ti­mol, the lat­ter man­aged to climb out the win­dow and dive or fling him­self 10 feet (3m) into the void thereby fall­ing through some shrubs, which ac­count for the mul­ti­ple in­jury marks on his body. The body was rapidly re­moved from the scene.

The document re­lied upon by mag­is­trate De Vil­liers to back up his “sui­cide” the­ory is par­tic­u­larly re­veal­ing. The document ex­horted com­mu­nists to com­mit sui­cide rather than be­tray­ing the party. Ac­cord­ing to the mag­is­trate, Ti­mol was in­volved in dis­tribut­ing it and pre­sum­ably then must have been fa­mil­iar with its con­tents.

Part of the head­ing of the document is the date, Fe­bru­ary 1972. Its publi­ca­tion date is months af­ter Ti­mol’s death. Milord this speaks vol­umes as to the rank am­a­teurism of the po­lice cover-up and it speaks vol­umes about the mag­is­trate and his state of mind.

Milord, it is in­deed a great pity that this in­quest takes place when vir­tu­ally all the po­lice wit­nesses in­volved have died.

They are not here to an­swer for them­selves and defend their con­duct. Their ab­sence de­nies the fam­ily and all South Africans of real ac­count­abil­ity.

The fam­ily would have much pre­ferred a process in which the thugs be­hind Ti­mol’s death were com­pelled to ac­count for them­selves in an open court.


STRUG­GLE ICON: It is not just apartheid’s le­gal pro­fes­sion that dis­graced it­self con­cern­ing Ahmed Ti­mol, but SA now has largely aban­doned his fam­ily and many vic­tims of apartheid-era atroc­i­ties.

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