Security police, medical practitioners and judiciary were against justice - Bizos
28 June 2017
Johannesburg - Human Rights lawyer George Bizos on Wednesday laid bare how security police, the judiciary and some individuals from the medical profession worked together during apartheid to prevent the administration of justice.
"Unfortunately, the security policy were a law unto themselves, they actually decided which magistrate would take which case. Unfortunately there were security policemen; there were prosecutors and senior prosecutors that did the bidding of the security police. There was nothing that we could do about it," said Bizos.
The frail soft spoken struggle stalwart testified at day three of the Ahmed Timol inquest which is currently sitting at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
The inquest was reopened after the family found new evidence that proved that Timol did not commit suicide but instead died in police custody in 1971.
Lawyers for the Timol family, Howard Varney, told Bizos that he was well-placed to assist the court in establishing the context of what really took place in the Timol case because he appeared in cases dealing with the abuse, torture and deaths of detainees.
Varney asked Bizos to consider some of the cases he had been involved in and point out the most important commonalities in all the cases, particularly with the Steve Biko case.
Bizos opened his testimony by saying: "You know, nobody in this world can do alone, the things that have happened in South Africa."
He said he was fortunate to have been a junior counsel, led by some of South Africa's finest lawyers, in both the Timol and Steve Biko matter.
"We, together with attorneys - can't mention them all - held their hand. We believed that not all policemen were liars. We actually persuaded some of them to tell part of the truth."
On the Timol matter, Bizos said together with his legal team, they consulted with the family and prepared to appear at the inquest in 1972.
The inquest ruled that Timol jumped out of the 10th floor at what was then known as John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg Central Police Station.
"A colleague - an Afrikaner - came to us and said that he had a piece of paper written by the Communist Party in which it was said that people if they are caught, should commit suicide rather than betray their comrades."
He said the document was never presented as evidence.
Having listened to Salim Essop, who was arrested with Timol, and who testified on Monday and Tuesday, Bizos said information was kept away from detainees.
He said: "The young man was comatose three or four days after the death of Timol on the floor. He didn't know. Did he know that a doctor came and examined him? He didn't."
He said people like Essop found themselves in those situations because justice did not mean anything to the security police.
"They were the bosses. They were going to arrest; they were going to detain and they were going to beat up [detainees]… Over 70 people died in the detention of the security police, [and] showed that they thought that the field is ours, we will do what we want to do and we do not have to report to anybody... "
Bizos said Timol's mother was concerned about him and always asked: "Where is my son? How is my son?" And: "Please do not hit him. I am his mother and I have never hit him."
The police responded saying it was her fault that Timol was in jail because had she hit him, he would not be what he was.
"They joked about it."
He said: "Unfortunately, there were people in the administration of justice who did not do what was expected of them...
"One has to be frank and not be shy to say I am sorry but you did not perform your duty. Your duty was actually not to torture people and if they were tortured and you saw it, especially if you were a person administering justice, you shouldn't have the title unless you do what you have to do.
"Most of our judges, most of our magistrates... thought that their so called patriotism to the apartheid regime was more important that justice and truth."
Bizos also testified that some doctors worked with the security police and often lied about cases.
"There were two doctors in the Eastern Cape who did not see any injuries on [Steve] Biko; they had no explanation [in terms of] how they [did nothing] to deal with the injuries that he had, that led to his death.
"They lied. The medical profession, years later, couldn't accept that the two doctors that saw Biko did their duties as doctors. The finding was [that no-one was to blame].
"But the medical profession applied to set proceedings in order to examine whether these doctors lied or not. The legal profession appointed a commission and they were both bound guilty of not looking after their patient and they were struck off the roll."
Bizos said some doctors were willing to lie under oath to assist the security police.
"The security police, during the period, particularly from the mid-70s, until almost three years before the release of Mr Nelson Mandela when things started changing, they thought that the magistrate was one of us: 'He will accept what we always say,' and it happened. That was the terrible reputation that the administration of justice under the apartheid regime accepted."
He said he did not want to generalise.
"We had judges, proportionately less in number to magistrates, we had Afrikaner prosecutors who would actually not take the nonsense of the investigating officers, they would tell them to tell the truth."
He said some paid the price for doing what was right.
"You were not likely applauded by some of your friends, politicians and I think that there was a sufficiently strong minority."
Judge Billy Mothle thanked Bizos for testifying.
The inquest is expected to be heard from June 26 and June 30, and will then resume between July 24 and August 4, and August 10 and 11.