Timol family pushing hard for closure
Bid to overturn magistrate’s 1971 ruling on son’s ‘suicide’
AQUEST for closure… that is the overriding theme for reopening the inquest into Ahmed Timol’s mysterious death while in apartheid police custody in October, 1971.
The inquest, which begins on Monday at the high court in Joburg, seeks to overturn a June 1972 ruling by Magistrate JL de Villiers, who ruled that Timol had committed suicide by jumping out of the 10th floor of the notorious John Vorster Square building – currently known as Johannesburg Police Station.
Timol was arrested in 1971 with his friend Salim Essop, a comrade in the SA Communist Party (SACP), after being caught with banned SACP and ANC literature in the car in which they were travelling.
According to Timol’s family, a burial supervisor employed by the Central Islamic Trust, Mohamed Khan, who examined Timol after his death, found that one of Timol’s eyes was out of its socket.
His body had blue marks, his fingernails had been removed and he had burn marks all over him as a result of shock treatment, according to Khan.
Khan’s observations were excluded in De Villiers’s ruling, which is what the Timol family seek to overturn in their search for closure.
Speaking to The Star yesterday, Timol’s maternal nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, said the family also hoped to restore the dignity of Timol’s parents, whom he said were humiliated by apartheid security forces before and after his uncle’s death.
“So, it is a very significant milestone, not just for the Timol family, but also giving hope to other families in the country who have lost loved ones through the ultimate sacrifice (death) that there is some hope,” Cajee said.
Testifying at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Timol’s mother, Hawa Timol, described how she found out her son had died:
“Three policemen (who identified themselves as security branch) came and entered our house.
“One of them pushed me into a seat and proceeded to tell me my son had tried to escape by jumping out of the 10th floor of John Vorster Square, and that I was to tell my husband that his body was lying in the Hillbrow government mortuary.”
Cajee thanked the Foundation for Human Rights, which he said had played a key role in assisting the family reopen the inquest, saying he would also assist other families seeking closure for their loved ones’ mysterious deaths and disappearances as soon as his uncle’s case was concluded.
Foundation chairperson Yasmin Sooka said three investigators – including Frank Dutton, who was part of the disbanded Scorpions – were employed to collate evidence that was expected to be led at the reopened inquest.
She conceded that it was difficult to raise funding for the investigators, but added: “The moment we conclude the Timol inquest, we are going to launch a massive hunt for funding to take the other cases forward.”
SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo said the apartheid regime was responsible for a number of similar deaths and unexplained disappearances.
“So, it is important that the whole country finds closure, and the reopening of this inquest will contribute towards that closure, particularly if the inquest becomes successful.”
Judge Billy Mothle will oversee the reopened inquest. The final dates will be August 10 and 11.
UNRESOLVED: Ahmed Timol was a young schoolteacher in Roodepoort who opposed apartheid. He was arrested at a police roadblock on October 22, 1971, and died five days later. He became the 22nd political detainee to die in detention since 1960.