POLITICS

'Lies, Damned Lies': Ahmed Timol's Bloody Death And 46 Years Of Justice Denied

The painful reopening of an inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol will "cause all of us to confront the sordid part of our history".

02/08/2017 06:04 SAST | Updated 02/08/2017 08:14 SAST
AFP/Getty Images
This picture taken on June 12, 2017 shows a general view of the Johannesburg Central Police Station, formerly known as John Vorster Square,

The former security police officer testifying at the inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol on Tuesday came under fire as advocates Torie Pretorious and Howard Varney accused him of fabricating his statement.

Jan Rodrigues, 78, was cross-examined on Tuesday in the North Gauteng High Court on the 12th day of the inquest into the suspicious death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol in 1971. The police's version of his death, supported by an inquest in 1972, said Timol had jumped from the window of the 10th floor of the infamous John Vorster Square (now Johannesburg Central Police Station) while being interrogated by security police.

Rodrigues' official line is that he had done his best to try and save Timol but couldn't reach him before he jumped through the window. He reiterated on Tuesday he did not see any injuries on Timol's body, despite forensic analysts claiming he had sustained severe injuries prior to his death.

Read: The Timol Family Is Still Overwhelmed By The Testimony From Witnesses

Rodrigues, who resigned after testifying in the 1972 inquest into Timol's death, on Monday gave a detailed description of Timol's last moments, claiming that police officers forced him to lie in his statement after the incident. He added that he had never touched Timol and was not prepared to write down what the officers wanted.

MUJAHID SAFODIEN via Getty Images
Former Apartheid security member Joao Rodrigues testifies as a witness during the inquest into the suspected murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol.

Last week, however, Judge Billy Mothle heard forensic pathologists explain how Timol's skull had been fractured after being bashed with a heavy object. According to the Mail & Guardian, Dr Steve Naidoo and Dr Shakeera Holland found that before he died, Timol was either unconscious or slipping out of consciousness, meaning he would not have been able to walk, let alone jump from a window.

'A clumsy web of lies'
Timol's family has long believed that his death while in police custody, the 22nd person to have suffered a similar fate during the last decades of apartheid, was not a result of suicide as presented in a 1972 inquest into his death.

On the first day of the inquest in June, Timol's friend Salim Essop told the court how they were both stopped by police officers while driving to Fordsburg and eventually taken to John Vorster Square for interrogation. Essop, who with Timol distributed ANC and SACP leaflets while these organisations were banned, said he was subject to various forms of abuse including electrocution, mule kicks and suffocation.

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA via Getty Images
Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of Ahmed Timol, who died in police custody in October 1971, holds a portrait of his uncle at his house on May 25, 2017 in Pretoria.

A day after being detained, Essop said he saw a man in a hood being dragged around whom he said he strongly believed was Timol. This was the last time he would see Timol before being informed of his death on the day Essop appeared in court.

Justice delayed... but perhaps not denied
The National Prosecuting Authority in October 2016 said it would officially reopen the investigation into Timol after a private investigation launched by his family presented "compelling new evidence" justifying the decision.

After the announcement, Timol's nephew Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee said his grandmother, who has since died, would be "smiling in heaven today". But the inquest underway was only the result of years of campaigning for a truthful account of the circumstances surrounding Timol's death.

Nine years after Timol's mother appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in search of closure, Cajee wrote a book -- "Quest For Justice" -- in which he claimed that evidence shows Timol was heavily monitored in the years preceding his arrest. Further, the roadblock at which he was arrested with Essop was in fact an order of arrest granted by the Commissioner of the Police at the time, he wrote.

Now 46 years since his death, and 21 years since Cajee started researching into his uncle's death, the family said it is overwhelmed at the progress made since the inquest reopened, according to EWN.

At its opening in June, Judge Billy Mothle said South Africans are "about to enter a door that will rekindle painful memories". This journey into the past would "cause all of us to confront the sordid part of our history and that door [once opened] will only close once the truth is revealed," he said.

Timol is one of 73 anti-apartheid activists who died in detention between 1963 and 1990, according to SA History Online. Anti-apartheid activists including Steve Biko and Neil Aggett are some prominent political figures among those on the list.

The inquest will continue on Wednesday.