South Africa

Timol Inquest: He was murdered but culprits are dead, court rules

Anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol was murdered, ruled the Pretoria High Court in a unique inquest on Thursday, overturning a 1972 ruling that he committed suicide while in detention in 1971. The Security Branch officers who could face charges for pushing him from the police’s John Vorster Square, however, have died. By GREG NICOLSON.

A packed courtroom clapped after Judge Billy Mothle ruled that in 1971 the SACP’s Timol was pushed by members of the Security Branch out of a window in John Vorster’s 10th floor or off its roof, leading to his death. He said there was a prima facie case of murder against the two policemen, who had in the past committed brutalities on detainees, who interrogated Timol on the day he was pushed to his death.

Judge Mothle said there was a prima facie dolus eventualis case of murder against Security Branch members Johannes van Niekerk and Captain Johannes Gloy, who, along with other officers, tortured Timol before his death and then pushed him to his death. They showed a recklessness in brutalising him without respect for his human dignity and while there was insufficient evidence to link them to direct intentions to commit murder, they should still face murder charges on the dolus eventualis doctrine.

Judge Mothle said the re-opening of the 1972 inquest was the first of its kind in South Africa and the current inquest was constrained because around 600 pages of the original inquest’s record was missing. The inquest was re-opened over 40 years after Timol’s death due to the continuous pressure applied by Timol’s family. The original inquest found Timol committed suicide, but Judge Mothle said the magistrate had relied on a limited version of events.

Despite the ruling that Timol was murdered and the Security Branch should share collective responsibility, no one will face murder charges. Van Niekerk died in 2006 and Gloys in 2012. The judge, however, said former Security Branch clerk Joao Rodrigues, who testified in the inquest which ran from June to September, should be investigated for accessory to murder after the fact because he lied about when the death occurred. The judge also said he should be investigated for perjury charges. Investigations into officers Seth Sons and Neville Els, who testified that they did not know of the Security Branch torturing detainees, were also recommended.

The courtroom was packed with Timol’s relatives, comrades and SACP supporters who sang outside the court after the judgment was delivered. Former president Thabo Mbeki has written of Timol: “Ahmed belongs in a high place amid the pantheon of great African indigenous leadership not only in this country but across the diaspora.”

Dozens of anti-apartheid activists died in police detention, with no one held accountable by the system which protected police officers and facilitated cover-ups. Timol’s inquest will probably lead to other investigations being re-opened as relatives of activists fight for justice. Judge Mothle said such relatives should be assisted and records preserved for such inquests.

After the judgment, Mohammed Timol, Ahmed’s brother, said: “Forty-six years have also gone by that those who murdered Ahmed and those who tortured the detainees that are here today… those interrogators, those feared members of the Security Branch during that nightmare apartheid, they are no longer here so we can hold them to account for their actions.

“We believe that this is a beginning to uncovering (the truth behind the deaths of) all those people who were subject to brutal deaths at the hands of the Security Branch,” he said, urging the NPA to act on similar cases.

Mohammed Timol read a statement from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, paying tribute to the family. “It is sad that it took so long and there are many other TRC matters that haven’t been resolved,” said Tutu.

Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Cajee, who fought for years to have the inquest re-opened, said: “It has been a long, uphill struggle, but 23 years into our democracy the true circumstances into Uncle Timol’s death have finally been ventilated and the official record revised.” Cajee said he was disappointed that the police continued to lie about what happened. “Those former security police officers who choose to continue to subvert the truth should be prosecuted regardless of their age,” he said. He also called for further investigations into activists who were killed by the police. “We would like to review the re-opening of the Timol inquest as the beginning and not the end.”

Marjorie Jobson, director of the Khulumani Support Group, said she was proud of Timol’s family for driving the re-opening of the inquest. “This has given hope to hundreds and hundreds of families, to families of people who died in detention we understand how difficult it is to get these matters in court but the relief and hope it offers is extremely important.”

Steve Biko’s son Nkosinathi Biko also attended court on Thursday and thanked the Timol family for persevering with the case. While he wouldn’t say whether his family wants to re-open the inquest into his father’s death, Biko said the nation is grappling with these issues and he hopes the NPA is re-energised in tackling such matters.

Advocate George Bizos, who worked both on the 1972 inquest and this year’s inquest, noted some of the cases he worked on where police escaped punishment. “The absence of punishment for the killers led to the deaths of at least another 65 people in South Africa led by the security police. Some of them are still alive. A couple of them have done very well in business.”

SACP First Deputy Secretary General Solly Mapaila summed the day up: “Today we now know that the security forces of the apartheid government killed Ahmed Timol. That’s very important.” DM

Photo: Ahmed Timol

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