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Judgment Day: Historic Timol Verdict Could Open The Accountability Floodgates For Apartheid Crimes

"We'll wait for the Ahmed Timol inquest and then pick up immediately on Neil Aggett, and then the next and then the next..."

12/10/2017 06:20 SAST | Updated 12/10/2017 09:59 SAST

Over 18 gruelling days in court, harrowing accounts of excruciating torture and death at the hands of apartheid's notorious security forces were laid bare in the reopened Ahmed Timol inquest. Now, decades since his violent death, a historic court judgment on Thursday could potentially undo a 46-year-strong "web of lies" and open the floodgates for similar "cold cases" to resurface.

Following over a decade-long struggle to have the case heard in court, Judge Billy Mothle is now expected to announce his verdict on whether a 1972 inquest into Timol's death -- which ruled his murder a suicide -- was an apartheid cover-up and should be overturned.

READ: Ahmed Timol's Image Frozen In Time

Timol's family members, who since his death have sought justice for what they contend was a murder by apartheid security branch forces, now wait anxiously for the judgment.

"It's hard to absorb," Timol's nephew Imtiaz Cajee told HuffPost SA a day before the verdict, reflecting on the family's protracted and painstaking journey in pursuit of truth.

"From a family perspective, there was no doubt that he was killed [by apartheid-era security forces] as were many others before him. The [first] inquest was hence a very painful process for my late grandparents. They both lived their lives as broken individuals after his death and the subsequent findings."

In the second inquest in recent months, the few officers still alive and called to testify stuck (mostly) to their original story: Timol jumped to his death and wasn't tortured. This despite forensic evidence clearly showing he had suffered substantial antemortem (before death) injuries.

Post Mortem, Department Of Forensic Medicine And Pathology, University Of Witwatersrand

Post Mortem, Department Of Forensic Medicine And Pathology, University Of Witwatersrand

Former security branch officer sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues, who was last to see Timol, was among those who raised the ire of the family and activists by sticking to that version of events. Nevertheless, he soon after crumbled under cross-examination, with Judge Mothle also pointing out inconsistencies between his testimonies, including what many have called blatant lies.


The battle for truth, however, is not just a battle against the apartheid regime and its deathly throes, but also against a post-apartheid justice system either actively stalling justice, demonstrating complicity in injustice, or ignoring the plight of victims.

On the back of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which none of the security branch officers responsible for Timol's arrest and detention was subpoenaed to testify, Cajee later turned to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in hopes of genuinely unearthing truth. There, he found no reprieve.

"I had written correspondence to the NPA in 2002/03 which wasn't very positive," said Cajee. "The NPA wasn't willing to reinvestigate the matter".

Many other victims of apartheid torture and murders find themselves suffering a similar fate, according to Marjorie Jobson, executive director of the Khulumani Support Group.

The state -- in swapping justice for amnesty, along with subsequently refusing to prosecute cases -- has "absolutely not delivered on honouring the sacrifices that victims had made," she said.

"Victims [of apartheid crimes] had to give up the right to prosecute people, to bring civil claims against people... many with nothing in return. That was the greatest loss to victims," she said.

READ: The Re-Opening Of The Timol Inquest Is A Blow Against The Impunity Of The Former Apartheid State

Jobson told HuffPost SA the NPA has been "hugely resistant" to prosecuting apartheid-era crimes, despite the long-lasting physical and psychological trauma.

"You'll be amazed at how difficult it is to bring those prosecutions. We've just managed to persuade Lawyers for Human Rights to take up a case of a man still alive who was abducted by the death squad and brutally tortured so that his health up until today is completely wrecked," she said.

So we are not only hoping the judge will order some further criminal prosecutions, we are also hoping out of the Timol case, the state will take cognisance of how severely they have failed victims, and how they continue to suffer.

The fight for justice, she adds, will not end with the Ahmed Timol Inquest. The Khulumani Support Group, active for many years in lobbying for criminal prosecution of apartheid-era crimes, will one day after the Timol verdict meet with the director-general of the department of justice with a plan to accelerate the cause.

"We are not giving up on the struggle to get some form of justice and reparation for the victims. We have prepared an agenda for these issues that we've been trying to pursue with the department of justice and we hope -- come the Timol verdict -- that we may have the most powerful evidence yet from the outcome of the judgment," she said.

There is sufficient evidence, she said, to force a reopening of the judicial inquest into the death of anti-apartheid trade unionist and medical doctor Neil Aggett, who also died while in detention at John Vorster Square in 1982.

Strategically it was decided that because of the huge resistance from Shaun Abrahams and people in the NPA, we'd wait for the Ahmed Timol inquest and then pick up immediately on Neil Aggett, and then the next and then the next.Marjorie Jobson

"That was the strategic decision because when you finally get someone to take on a case, you don't want to drown them. It's very difficult with the state of the NPA as it is."

Cajee expressed a similar dismay with the post-apartheid government's failure to initiate criminal prosecutions and ensure justice is served for remaining victims and their families.

"We cannot ever forget, but we also cannot continue commemorating on the principle of 'not forgetting' without ever finding out what actually happened," he said.

South African History Archive

He said the sacrifices made during apartheid by thousands of ordinary men and women should "inspire us to continue the struggle", albeit in a different political landscape "where their liberation party is now the governing party of the day".

"We cannot abdicate our responsibilities, given that the same principles that people died for are now completely forgotten when we enter the corridors of power," he said.

WATCH THE JUDGEMENT HERE AS IT HAPPENS (via SABC Digital News):