Ahmed Timol: New inquest can't credibly find differently - Foundation

JP Botha says Security Branch had no motive to kill the underground SACP operative


The inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol will be reopened after 45 years with Judge Billy Mothle as chairman. According to media reports there are several allegations about Timol's torture during his detention by the security branch and how he eventually was thrown out of the 10th floor of John Vorster Square Building.

The following details are known regarding Ahmed Timol:

During the December 1966, Ahmed resigned as a schoolteacher and left South Africa on the pretext of going on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca for the Hajj. In Saudi Arabia  he met Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and also Maulvi Cachalia, both hardened members of the ANC/SACP-party. Both inspired him to become intensely involved in the struggle of the ANC/SACP-party.

In April 1967, Timol departed for Saudi Arabia and arrived in London where he took up a teaching post and met  Rajani Palme Dutt The latter was one of the members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

Timol became a member of both the South African Communist Party (SACP) and  Umkhonto we Sizwe. He left for Moscow where he as well as Thabo Mbeki were trained at the Lenin Institute. After the completion of his training he returned to London where he received further training from Jack Hodgson, a hardened communist.

Mr. Ronnie Kasrills, a former minister of Intelligence, testified as follows during his application for amnesty:

“After completing military training in the Soviet Union and spending time at a MK camp in Tanzania, I was deployed to London. I was part of a command consisting of Yusuf Dadoo, Joe Slovo, Jack Hodgson and myself. Our task was to assist in building the underground in South Africa and this involved recruiting and training cadres, smuggling material into the country and directing operations. These were mainly propaganda operations but also involved setting up infrastructure for MK. Some cadres involved were Alex Moumbaris, Tony Holiday, Ahmed Timol, Raymond Suttner, David and Sue Rabkin, Tim Jenkin and Steve Lee”.

Timol was apprehended on October 22, 1971 at a roadblock in Coronationville, Johannesburg, while in possession of SACP pamphlets. He has been handed over to the Security Branch in Johannesburg. He was detained in terms of the provisions of Sec. 29 of the Internal Security Act. He was a member of the ANC / SACP and was suspected of being involved in underground operations. According to information in the possession of the Security Branch, he was then at the forefront of the SACP's underground operations in South Africa.

On 27 October 1971, during interrogation by members of the Security Branch on the tenth floor of John Vorster Square in Johannesburg, Mr. Timol unexpectedly stormed to a window, opened it and jumped out. He fell to his death. The autopsy was performed by the then senior state pathologist in Johannesburg, Dr. Nicolaas Scheepers. Dr. Jonathan Gluckman appeared for the Timol family and Dr. Hieronymus Koch represented the police.

During the autopsy, visible injuries to the body of Mr. Timol was noticed which were on the mend. The pathologists could not determine the exact time at which the injuries were sustained. Doctors Scheepers and Gluckman believed that the injuries could have been sustained whilst he was detained by the Security Branch. Dr. Koch, however, differed sharply and found that the manner in which the injuries had already healed indicated that it should have been sustained before his detention.

During the TRC proceedings, Mrs. Hawa Timol, mother of Mr. Ahmed Timol, testified before the committee for gross human violations and stated that when she received her child's body, he was assaulted, his face covered in blood and his coffin filled with blood.

Mrs. Timol testified by using an interpreter in her mother tongue, Guajarati. It is difficult to determine if her testimony about the body of her son was imaginary, or the interpreter misinterpreted or whether it was deliberate lies. As the findings of the autopsy and the judicial inquiry show, Mrs. Timol's testimony is blatant lies if it is literally understood.  

An Inquest was held by Johannesburg Magistrate J.J.L. de Villiers, with D.W. Rothwell and A.L.T. Beukes as Public Prosecutors, and Advocate I.A. Maisels QC and Advocate G. Bizos, and instructing attorneys M.S.H. Cachalia and M.A. Loonat presenting the Timol family.

Magistrate De Villiers found that Mr. Timol had committed suicide, on the one hand, for fear of being forced to expose information about the SACP's underground operations and the members involved, and on the other hand because he knew that long imprisonment was likely to be awaiting him. Magistrate De Villiers also found that according to all the evidence presented, the injuries to the body of Mr. Timol, not caused by the fall, has probably been sustained before his detention. The Magistrate further found that there is no evidence that Mr. Timol has been assaulted or abused by members of the Security Branch.

It is very difficult to determine how any inquest after 45 years can make any credible finding that differs from the initial finding. The following facts must be considered:

All members of the security branch involved in the incident have already died.

Dr. Jonathan Gluckman and several of the other key witnesses have already died.

During the inquest, two experienced and competent advocates, I A Maisels and George Bizos, represented the family. They would undoubtedly have taken the magistrate’s findings to the Supreme Court on review if they had any grounds for doing so.

It was clear during the inquest that the security branch had no motive at all to kill Timol. He was a valuable source of information and everyone was aware that his unnatural death would result in an inquest where every act of the security branch would be placed under the magnifying glass.

No incident came to light during the amnesty hearings where members of the security branch killed any person in the course of their duties due to personal malice, ill-will or spite. No credibility can be attached to testimony before the committee for the gross violation of human rights. The proceedings of the latter committee were conducted by Reverend Desmond Tutu and Dr. Alex Boraine, who refused to apply the audi alteram partem rule and subject witnesses to cross-examination in gross violation of emphatic guidelines laid down by the appeal court. They refused to allow, as directed by the appeal court, members of the police accused of torturing detainees, to defend themselves.

Statement issued by JP Botha, Chairperson – Foundation for Equality Before the Law, 12 June 2017