Delv­ing into depths of pain from a bru­tal, ‘sor­did’ past

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - @khayakoko88 KHAYA KOKO khaya.koko@inl.co.za

“MY FA­THER was a lot stronger, but my mother re­lived this pain through­out her life.”

These were the sor­row­ful words of Mo­hammed Ti­mol, de­scrib­ing how his par­ents dealt with the mys­te­ri­ous yet tragic death of his older brother, Ahmed Ti­mol, at the hands of apartheid se­cu­rity po­lice in 1971.

Mo­hammed was speak­ing to The Star on the side­lines of the re­opened in­quest into his brother’s death, which be­gan yes­ter­day at the high court in Joburg.

The in­quest, brought by Ti­mol’s fam­ily, aims on over­turn­ing a June 1972 rul­ing by mag­is­trate JL de Vil­liers that Ti­mol had com­mit­ted sui­cide by jump­ing out of the 10th floor of the in­fa­mous John Vorster Square, cur­rently known as Johannesburg Cen­tral po­lice sta­tion.

The pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer in the re­opened in­quest, Judge J Mothle, said in court yes­ter­day he had no doubt that this process would rekin­dle painful memories and open a door “which will cause all of us to con­front the sor­did part of our his­tory”.

This is the “sor­did his­tory” that Mo­hammed said his mother, es­pe­cially, lived with – say­ing se­cu­rity po­lice ha­rassed his par­ents for the five days af­ter his brother’s ar­rest lead­ing up to his death.

Both Ti­mol’s par­ents have since died.

“They (se­cu­rity po­lice) were at our flat daily, look­ing for things, in­tim­i­dat­ing my par­ents and so on,” Mo­hammed ex­plained.

“The day be­fore they came to in­form my mother that Ahmed was dead, she asked one of the se­cu­rity po­lice­men in Afrikaans, ‘Please, I want to see my son’. And the se­cu­rity po­lice­man said, ‘You will not see your son. You did not give him a hiding when he was small – we are now giv­ing him a hiding.’ That was the hu­mil­i­a­tion for my mother.”

Two wit­nesses were called to give tes­ti­mony in court yes­ter­day, where grue­some de­tails emerged from Dr Salim Es­sop about how he said he was “bru­tally tor­tured” by se­cu­rity po­lice at John Vorster Square.

Es­sop was ar­rested with Ahmed af­ter a car they were trav­el­ling in was stopped by apartheid po­lice. Banned SACP and ANC lit­er­a­ture was found in the car.

Es­sop told the court about a range of tor­ture tac­tics he said were meted out against him, in­clud­ing be­ing tied with a plas­tic bag around his head to a point where he said he felt like he was suf­fo­cat­ing, be­ing kicked re­peat­edly in a method known as “mule kick­ers”, and be­ing sub­jected to elec­tric shocks that caused him “ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain”.

Es­sop added that he was held up­side down on the 10th floor of the no­to­ri­ous prison af­ter be­ing sub­jected to roughly five days of tor­ture and was told he would be dropped.

“I was in such pain that if they (po­lice) dropped me at that mo­ment, it would have been fine,” Es­sop said while chok­ing up with emo­tion.

Speak­ing to The Star af­ter his tes­ti­mony, Es­sop as­serted that while it was not nice to re­live “the night­mar­ish ex­pe­ri­ence” of his tor­ture, he felt good about pub­licly re­lay­ing it as he hoped it would help other peo­ple.

“Maybe it’s a way to come to terms with re­al­i­ties that we lived un­der dur­ing the apartheid era. In a way we want clo­sure; just as in the way the Ti­mol fam­ily want clo­sure about Ahmed’s death, I want clo­sure about all the hor­ren­dous ex­pe­ri­ences I had in the hands of the se­cu­rity po­lice,” he em­pha­sised.

It also emerged from the in­quest’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer, Cap­tain Ben­jamin Nel, that only three of­fi­cials in­volved in Ti­mol’s mys­te­ri­ous death were still alive.

They are War­rant Of­fi­cer N Els, who was called to iden­tify the com­mu­nist doc­u­ments found with Ti­mol and Es­sop; Sergeant J Ro­drigues, who was a clerk at John Vorster; and Sergeant JP Fourie, who worked at the state mor­tu­ary and re­ceived Ti­mol’s mor­tal re­mains.

The in­quest was to con­tinue to­day with an on-site in­spec­tion of the old John Vorster Square.

PIC­TURE: MATTHEWS BALOYI

HERO: An ex­hi­bi­tion in mem­ory of lib­er­a­tion fighter Ahmed Ti­mol was held at the Apartheid Mu­seum in July 2015.

Ahmed Ti­mol died in 1971 at the former John Vorster Square po­lice sta­tion.

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