'They will answer to God' - Ahmed Timol’s brother

Mohammed Timol says surviving Security Branch officers now had a chance to tell truth about SACP operative's death

Johannesburg – Anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol’s younger brother Mohammed on Monday said he believed that the surviving security police, who detained his brother in 1971, now had a second chance to tell the truth about his mysterious death.

"We will not know who was responsible for his interrogation and his death, until the security police from the old government are prepared to redeem themselves because sooner or later they are going to die, if they are still alive.

"If they believe in God, they will answer to God. This is what my mother said during the TRC. She said, 'I want to know what happened to my child? I want to know who was responsible for killing him and if I cannot get it in this world, those that are responsible will have to answer to God'."

Speaking outside the High Court in Johannesburg during the first sitting of the inquiry looking into Timol’s death, Mohammed, who is younger by seven years, said the reopening of the inquiry meant a great deal, even if it was 45 years after his death.

Timol’s death was ruled a suicide in 1972, however a private investigation launched by Timol's family uncovered new evidence which it presented to the NPA, asking for the inquest to be reopened. The NPA agreed.

The Roodepoort teacher's loved ones have always maintained that they did not believe Timol, the 22nd person to die in police custody, had jumped from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square while being interrogated by security police.

Mohammed said: "For many years now, Ahmed’s memory has lived on, but the official records have text that Ahmed decided to commit suicide during interrogation while in detention in 1971, October 27."

Mohammed said the initial inquest into his brother’s death took place between April and June in an all-white court.

"The magistrate was white. The prosecutor was white. The security policemen were white. The system was white. We knew that we stood no chance to get the truth.

"The findings of the magistrate after many days of inquest hearings, which my parents and I attended every day, we could see through the farce, it was actually a farce, the inquest."

He said the initial inquiry found that the security police were painted as good policemen that never tortured political detainees.

"Ahmed was not the 21st person to be killed in custody as a political detainee, he was the 22nd one. So all the policemen who were testifying about how they treated Ahmed [are not telling the truth], we knew very well that Salim Essop, who was giving testimony today [Monday] was almost killed and landed in hospital a few days after he and Ahmed were detained."

He said once South Africa was liberated and received its democracy through negotiations, it relied on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to get the truth.

"The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an opportunity for everyone to either give a testimony or a written testimony..."

He said in building the rainbow nation, many things fell through the cracks.

"Many families still need to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones. Families need to know what happened to some of their children that went to exile and never returned. There were some activists that disappeared and never returned."

Mohammed said the TRC gave some families closure, but others had not been heard.

Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee, in the last 20-odd years insisted that the family get to the bottom of what really happened to Ahmed.

"We do not accept the security police’s versions and the findings of that inquiry in 1972 and when the magistrate said Ahmed was treated kindly by the policemen, he was never assaulted, he was not tortured and Ahmed took his own life…

"We cannot accept that."

He said the opening of the inquiry was a new beginning for the family.

"If we get closure in this particular inquest [it would be great] but maybe we may never get to the bottom of the truth because the only people that were there were security policemen, unless there is someone alive and they want to redeem themselves and tell the truth, then we will know the truth," he said.

The first sitting of the inquest kicked off with Judge Bully Mothle, who has been appointed to oversee the proceedings, officially opening the inquest.

Proceedings in the packed court moved along swiftly, with the investigating officer Ben Nel, who was appointed by the family, taking the stand.

He told the court of how he went about collating all the evidence pertaining to the case, from reading newspaper archives to tracing down some of the police officers who worked on the case, some of whom have since died, as well as speaking to some of the witnesses.

The man who was arrested with Timol during a roadblock in 1971, Salim Essop, testified, giving a detailed account of how he was tortured while he was in detention after the arrests.

On Tuesday, Essop is expected to continue with his testimony and at 14:00 the court is expected to proceed to conduct an inspection in loco at what was known as John Vorster Square, where the incident took place.

Human rights lawyer George Bizos is expected to give his testimony on Wednesday.

The matter continues during the week and then it will resume between July 24 and August 4, and August 10 and 11.