After decades of struggle by the Timol family and human rights activists, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has announced that it would reopen the inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol. The original inquest found in 1972 that nobody was to blame for Timol’s death. The Magistrate concluded that Timol had not been maltreated during his detention and had committed suicide.
Following a private investigation launched on behalf of the family, fresh evidence was placed before the NPA, which suggested that the magistrate had erred in issuing such findings. The family requested that the inquest be reopened to examine Timol’s death afresh.
After considering this evidence the NPA agreed that there was compelling evidence necessitating the reopening of the inquest in the interest of justice. The National Director of Public Prosecutions has requested the Minister of Justice to approach the Judge President of the Gauteng High Court to allocate a judge for the hearing of the inquest.
Members of the family, close friends and comrades of Roodepoort teacher and anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol never believed that he committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square while under interrogation by security police. According to his family, it was “not in his character to give up”. They believe he was either tortured to death and thrown from the window, or pushed.
But despite the presentation of medical evidence of gruesome torture, the magistrate who conducted the inquest at the height of apartheid bought the security police version that they had treated Timol compassionately, and found that nobody could be held responsible for his death. It was obviously suicide, Magistrate De Villiers found in June 1972, and there the matter has officially lain for nearly 45 years.
Re-open the case
Until Tuesday, when National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams wrote to Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha requesting that the Judge President of the Gauteng High Court appoints a judge to re-open the inquest.
Confirming Abrahams’ request to Minister Masutha, Dr JP Pretorius of the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit informed the Timol family: “We are of the opinion that there is compelling evidence that necessitates the re-opening of the inquest in the interest of justice.”
Ahmed Timol was a school teacher at the Roodepoort Indian High School. He left South Africa in December 1966 to perform the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, and moved on to London where he linked up with his exiled friends, Essop and Aziz Pahad. A decision was made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party that Timol would undergo his political training at the Lenin School in the Soviet Union in 1969, accompanied by Thabo Mbeki and Anne Nicholson.
Timol returned to South Africa in 1970, and proceeded to build underground structures for the banned ANC and SACP. He was successful in distributing propaganda material by mailing lists throughout the country for a period of 18 months. On the evening of 22 October 1971, Timol accompanied by medical student, Saleem Essop, were stopped at a police roadblock in Coronationville.
Timol and Saleem Essop were taken to the Newlands Police Station where they were separated and later taken to the John Vorster Square Police Station. Four days and 19 hours later, police alleged that Timol jumped to his death. By then, Essop was in hospital after being tortured to an inch of his life.
Family relieved by the inquest
Timol was the 22nd person to die in police custody, and many more were to follow. Responding to the NPA’s decision to pursue reopening the inquest, Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee, said he hoped the family of Neil Aggett would get similarly good news soon. He paid tribute to Timol’s mother, Hawa Timol, who appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996 to plea for the case to be reopened.
“My grandmother has since passed away, but she will be smiling in heaven today,” Cajee said.
Cajee said the Timol family sought the reopening of the inquest in order to have the finding of “nobody to blame” reversed. Following intensive investigations, the family was persuaded that members of the Security Branch of the erstwhile South African Police were responsible for the death. Substantive information had been forwarded to the Head of the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit of the National Prosecution Authority, Cajee said.
Cajee is presently working on the second edition of his book, Timol: The Elusive Truth. He said reopening the inquest would provide critical insight into events on the last days of his uncle’s life – 45 years ago, tomorrow. Other important outstanding questions related to Timol’s movements in the days leading up to his arrest. Was his underground operation compromised by an informer? And, was the police roadblock at which he was arrested staged to appear that the arrest was accidental?
To commemorate the 45th anniversary of Timol’s death, Cajee will be in Ginsberg, King Williams Town, at the Steve Biko Foundation, where the Ahmed Timol Exhibition will be opening tomorrow. Biko was brutally murdered in police detention in 1977. It is hoped that the re-opening of the Timol Inquest will set precedent for other families to follow suit.
On the 30 October 2016, the ANC Abaqulusi Region will be hosting a memorial lecture for Timol at the Princess La Dluli Community Hall, Magengeni Area. A Ceremony for the renaming of the Branch to the Ahmed Timol Branch will also be taking place. The Dr Yusuf Dadoo Primary School will be screening the SAFTA winning documentary, Indians Can’t Fly, on 12 November 2016. VOC