Security cops called shots in Timol inquest
APARTHEID’S security police were a law unto themselves, who got magistrates, prosecutors and senior prosecutors to help them conceal their evil deeds – going as far as fabricating evidence.
These were the scathing views of human rights lawyer George Bizos, who described what he felt was a cover-up by the apartheid state in hiding the facts surrounding activist Ahmed Timol’s death in October 1971.
The renowned lawyer represented the Timol family alongside legendary human rights lawyer Issy Maisels in the 1972 inquest.
Bizos was testifying at the reopened inquest into Timol’s death in the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, yesterday.
The case was brought by the late activist’s family in a bid to overturn the June 1972 inquest ruling by magistrate JL de Villiers, that Timol had committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square, which is today known as the Johannesburg Central police station.
A bone of contention for Bizos was an “invented” document by the apartheid police, “Inkululeko Freedom, February 1972, No 2”, which he said he and Maisels received from the police’s lawyer Fanie de Villiers. The document appeared to have been written by the SA Communist Party and implored comrades to “rather commit suicide than betray the organisation”.
Bizos told the court yesterday that the document was not part of the formal exhibit list. “The magistrate readily used it (the document) to base his finding that there was a political motive of communist ideology behind Timol’s supposed suicide… I have no doubt that this document was fabricated by the police for the consumption of the court,” he said.
De Villiers said at the time in his findings that Timol was involved in distributing this document but Bizos rejected the findings, asserting: “Unless this date (February 1972) is incorrect, then it appears that this document was only published months after Timol’s death, which means he obviously had no sight of it let alone being involved in its distribution.
“This is an indication of the carelessness, or worse, of the magistrate.”
The Timol family’s advocate. Howard Varney, told the court that the non-inclusion of this document meant Bizos and Maisels “were deprived an opportunity to ask questions in relation to this document”.
Varney asked Bizos to comment on his view, to which he responded: “Well, I can only say that, unfortunately, the security police were a law unto themselves. They decided which magistrate would take which case. Unfortunately, there were security policemen, there were prosecutors, there were senior prosecutors that did the bidding of the security police.”
Bizos said the police’s representative, Cilliers, had told him and Maisels that he would not use this document as it was “defamatory in respect of Maisels, myself and others”, and was surprised when the magistrate relied on it.
“We thought the document would, at least, be shelved when Fanie said he was not prepared to use it. We believed there would be sufficient humanity to tear it up or put it away – not be handed over to the magistrate behind our back.
“What sort of magistrate takes into consideration in his judgment a document that was not placed before him?” Bizos asked.
Timol was arrested with his friend Dr Salim Essop in October 1971.
The inquest continues today.