Saturday marked the 53rd anniversary of the death of anti-apartheid activist Sulaymaniyah “Babla” Saloojee, who, like Ahmed Timol, died while in the custody of the apartheid-era security police.
Saloojee, a close friend of ANC and SACP stalwart the late Ahmed Kathrada, died on September 9, 1964 after falling from a seventh floor window in Gray’s Building, the then headquarters of the police’s Special Branch.
Although the police’s version was that he had committed suicide and an inquest into his death found that the cause of his death was unknown, his family and colleagues believe he was tortured to death by the infamous security policeman “Rooi Rus” Swanepoel, before being thrown out of the window.
Saloojee was the fourth anti-apartheid activist to die in custody and many more were to follow.
Timol died on September 27, 1971, after falling or being thrown out of a 10th storey window at the security police headquarters at John Vorster Square.
An inquest into Timol’s death found that he had committed suicide, but evidence presented at the re-opened inquest into his death earlier this year strongly suggests he may have been tortured to death.
The inquest, in which Judge Billy Mothle has yet to make a ruling, has brought hope to the families of other anti-apartheid activists who died in police custody that the truth about their deaths might one day be revealed.
The inquest into Timol’s death was only re-opened after a battle by his family. In 2004, Kathrada paid a moving tribute to Saloojee, describing his friend as the most gentle of men, a prankster, his source of strength and a colleague.
Kathrada said in his tribute that Saloojee had been picked up under the 90-day detention law, brutally interrogated and tortured to death by Swanepoel and then flung from a window.
“The so-called inquest accepted the police version that Babla committed suicide by jumping to his death. I have never doubted, however, that he died under interrogation, and his body was then thrown out of the window. The magistrate found ‘nothing in the evidence suggested Saloojee had been assaulted or that methods of interrogating him were in any way irregular’.”