Some 47 years ago a meeting was held in Durban to discuss a national day of mourning for South Africa’s political detainees. The meeting was sparked by the death of Ahmed Timol, who had died in police custody on the 27th October 1971. Timol was the 22nd political detainee to die since 1963. By 1990, a further 50 activists would die whilst in police detention.
Ahmed Timol was born in the Transvaal on the 3rd November 1941. From a young age Timol had a strong sense of what was right and wrong, and was courageous in pointing out injustices, regardless of the implications. Timol’s father, Haji Yusuf Ahmed Timol, an immigrant from India, was friends with a number of members of the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the Transvaal Indian Congress. As a child Timol suffered from asthma, and Dr. Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo, chair of both the SACP and the South African Indian Congress, was his clinician.
Having studied to be a teacher, Timol felt the need to commit himself further to the anti-apartheid fight, and in 1966 he chose to leave his teaching post in Roodepoort, ostensibly to attend Hajj in Mecca. The trip enabled Timol to obtain a passport, and within a few months of arriving in Saudi Arabia, he left for London, eventually making his way to the Soviet Union. Together with Thabo Mbeki he attended the International Lenin School as an active member of the SACP and Umkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the ANC.
In February 1970, Timol returned to South Africa after completing 18 months of training in Moscow, and a further four weeks training with the SACP in London. He resumed his teaching post at Roodepoort Indian High School, and enrolled for a BA with UNISA. Timol was an ambitious person, with plans for his future.
On his return home Timol struck up a friendship with with a former student of his, Salim Essop, who was studying medicine at Wits. Essop shared Timol’s abhorrence for apartheid and the two set about distributing political pamphlets. Timol had compiled a list of 8,000 names of people who he believed were becoming politically active. His contacts in London provided financial support for the printing of the pamphlets, and had also given Timol the go ahead to start a newspaper that would reflect the problems of the Indian community and advocate for organisation and resistance.
On the 22nd October 1971, Timol and Salim Essop were arrested at a roadblock in Coronationville. According to the police, banned ANC literature, instructions from the SACP, and material related to the 50th anniversary of the SACP were found in the boot of their car.
The pair were taken to Newlands Police Station where they were kept in separate offices, with both men eventually being moved to the infamous John Vorster Square. Essop was detained and tortured for four days before being sent to Johannesburg General Hospital. According to the medical staff he appeared to have been severely assaulted. During his interrogation Essop managed to catch a glimpse of Timol through a door that was ajar. According to Essop, Timol was not walking normally, had a black hood over his head, and appeared to be in severe pain.
On the 27th October 1971, while supposedly alone with Sergeant J Rodrigues, Timol purportedly jumped out of an open window, killing himself. For appearance’s sake, the state held an inquest into his death, finding no fault on the part of the police. No mention was made of the assault or torture of Timol, despite his body showing signs of severe torture. An undertaker, Mohammed Khan, who saw Timol’s body in the mortuary, observed that his eye was out of its socket, his body was covered in bruises and that he had burn marks all over his body. Mourners preparing Timol’s body for burial further commented this his neck had been broken, and that all of his fingernails had been removed.
On the 12th October last year the North Gauteng High Court officially recognised that Ahmed Timol had been murdered by Security Branch police. The ruling came about as a result of testimony from trajectory experts who claimed that Timol could not have jumped, as well as physical evidence of torture, and Essop’s sighting of Timol being dragged by the police.
Judge Billy Mothle ruled that Joao Rodrigues was an accomplice after the fact to murder, and that the former policeman had committed perjury at the 1972 and 2017 inquests when he testified that Timol had jumped from the 10th floor window. Rodrigues, now 79 years old, has this week appeared in court on charges of murder and defeating the ends of justice, some 46 years after the death of Ahmed Timol.
For further information please visit www.ahmedtimol.co.za