Timol: it was murder
WEMBLEY COLLEGE TURNS 20
In a landmark ruling handed down in the North Gauteng High Court yesterday, Judge Billy Mothle overturned a 1972 inquest finding which had ruled that antiapartheid activist Ahmed Timol had committed suicide by jumping out of a window on the 10th floor of the John Vorster Square building in 1971.
Mothle said Timol’s fall was as a result of being pushed by the security branch police, either from the window of room 1026 or from the top of the roof of the prison, now called Johannesburg Central police station.
Nkosinathi Biko, the son of Steve Biko, thanked the Timol family for relentlessly pursuing the inquest. “This is a great victory not only for your family but also for this nation.”
When asked if the Biko family would be considering reopening the inquest into his father’s death, he said: “The nation should help me with that question. It is not only a question for the Biko family.
“The fact that there were no prosecutions in the case of Biko and other cases, leaving on the record finding such as nobody is to blame is something that we should ponder over as a nation.”
Mohammad Timol, the brother of the late activist, said October 27 would mark 46 years since his brother’s death.
“Fortysix years had also gone by that those who murdered Ahmed and those who tortured the detainees sitting here today ... those interrogators and members of the security branch police... they are no longer here so that we can bring them to account for their actions.
“We believe that this is the beginning to uncover all those people who were subjected to the most brutal death at the hands of the security branch police.”
FAMILY’S VIEWS ‘REAFFIRMED’
Imtiaz Cajee, Timol’s nephew, said the family had never doubted that Timol was murdered by the police and that the initial inquest was a cover up. Cajee said without the medical records, it would have been difficult to persuade the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to reopen the case.
“I think for me reality will sink in once I read the judgment again. I think for the first time we can say that my uncle did not die in police detention but he was killed and I think that is very significant.”
Cajee said this was something that he had been struggling with for years. “I think the findings reaffirm our view which we have always held and that is that Ahmed Timol did not commit suicide, did not die in police custody but was murdered in police detention.”
Cajee said he was overwhelmed. He said his thoughts went out to other families whose loved ones died under mysterious circumstances like Timol.
The NPA’s Luvuyo Mfaku welcomed the judgment. “All those families that have got their loved ones who passed on during detention and where inquests were held, those will be looked at to see whether in their cases there were coverups.
“And where there is new evidence that has come to the fore, the NPA will not hesitate to open those cases.”
Mfaku said the court ordered that there be an investigation into and possible prosecution of former security branch police sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues for his role in Timol’s death.
“The investigators in the police now know what to investigate and what the charges will be. Because it is an inquest, the findings are made on the balance of probabilities and that needs to be investigated so that in a criminal court we are in a position to prove our case beyond reasonable doubt.”
HOPE FOR HUNDREDS
Struggle icon Salim Essop, who was arrested along with Timol, said the judgment revealed what really happened to Timol.
“The truth is that Ahmed Timol was detained and we both were terribly tortured to near death. I think the judge has accepted today that Ahmed Timol died because of torture.”
Marjorie Jobson from the Khulumani Support Group said the organisation was very proud of Timol’s family.
“This has given hope to hundreds and hundreds of families of people who died in detention. We understand how difficult it is to get these things into court but the relief and hope it has restored in people is incredibly important.”
Jobson said the judgment also laid bare the use of torture by the apartheid regime. “We were relieved to hear that Judge Billy Mothle recommended investigation and we think that it is time that the law takes its course.”
Human rights lawyer Advocate George Bizos said: “What would have happened to South Africa if in 1972, we had a judge or magistrate hearing the reasons for the death of Timol and a few years later, the other great South Africans?
“If they listened to the top two lawyers in South Africa, Issy Maisels and Sydney Kentridge, who appealed and gave evidence that the security police killed people in custody, South Africa may have avoided the terror that it had to face thereafter.”
Bizos said the absence of killers in the deaths of Steve Biko and Timol led to the deaths of at least another 65 people in South Africa at the hands of the security branch police.
“Justice has her way of actually reaching the top,” he said.
CALL FOR CASES TO BE REOPENED
Chairperson of the Foundation for Human Rights Thoko Mpumlwana said it had been a long journey for the Timol family.
“We want people to know that the pages in the archives are missing in some of these stories to be told. We hope that it will never again happen that there are missing pages in the stories of people fighting for justice.”
Mpumlwana said every individual had the right to know the truth about the past. “The fabrications and the withholding of information from the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] was unjust, that is why we are here today. If only people told the truth and were honourable enough to tell the truth, then the family would have not been here, because they would have had closure.”
The SACP’s Solly Mapaila said the party was very happy that the judge had overturned the “lie” that was perpetuated at the time. “We now know officially that apartheid security forces murdered comrade Timol largely for his role as member of the communist party. We have enough evidence, despite their attempt to try and destroy it.”
Mapaila said this was an important judgment and that the government needed to urgently assemble personnel to reopen “more than 400 cases of our comrades which through the TRC were found to require further investigation”.
Essop Pahad (left), former minister in the presidency, and Dr Salim Essop, friend and fellow inmate of Ahmed Timol, at the Pretoria High Court yesterday. Both testified in the reopened inquest into Timol’s torture and murder by long dead security police officers in 1971.