Anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol did not commit suicide, but was tortured and murdered by members of the security police who either pushed him out of a 10th floor window or from the roof of John Vorster Square, the High Court in Pretoria has found.
Judge Billy Motlhe yesterday set aside the findings of a 1972 inquest that found that the 29-year-old teacher, who was a South African Communist Party member who received military training in Moscow with President Thabo Mbeki, had committed suicide.
He found that the now deceased security policemen, Captains Hans Gloy and Faan van Niekerk, had not only brutally tortured him, but also murdered him with intent in the form of dolus eventualis.
He found that both of them, and especially Van Niekerk, had a history of brutality and complaints of torture against them, and knew that death could result from their brutal interrogation methods, but nevertheless continued to torture Timol to get information out of him.
He found that Joao (Jan) Rodrigues, the former security police pay clerk who told the court he had seen Timol jump up and dive out of the window without saying a word, had been brought in at a later stage by the security police to cover up Timol’s murder and that he had repeatedly perjured himself.
Judge Motlhe found that Rodrigues was an accessory after the fact to the murder and recommended that he be investigated for murder and perjury.
He said the reopened inquest, which was the first of its kind in South Africa, also highlighted the deaths of other political detainees who died in police custody and whose families were still searching for the truth.
He said the SA Human Rights Commission and the country’s law enforcement agencies should assist these families to get the records relating to their loved ones’ deaths with the view of reopening other inquests.
The judge sharply criticised the magistrates, medical doctors, members of the legal profession and police who were complicit in allowing the security policemen responsible for Timol’s death to get away with their evil deeds.
He said all members of the professions had a duty to see to it that no further persons were tortured in this country.
Timol died four days after being arrested in a roadblock. He was suspected of being behind a successful campaign to spread SACP and ANC pamphlets all over South Africa.
His family, with the help of the nonprofit Foundation on Human Rights, International Centre for Transitional Justice adviser Howard Varney, law firm Webber Wentzel, the Legal Resource Centre and private investigator Frank Dutton, finally convinced the National Prosecuting Authority to reopen the inquest after uncovering new evidence.
The police alleged that during the first inquest, members of the SACP had instructions to commit suicide rather than reveal information under interrogation, but the court accepted the evidence of several top-ranking apartheid-era SACP members who testified that this was not the case and that imprisonment was seen as a badge of honor.
Judge Motlhe commended for their courage the numerous former political detainees who testified in horrifying detail about their own torture at the hands of the apartheid-era security police.