An anti-apartheid activist who died in police custody 46 years ago did not commit suicide but was murdered by officers, the North Gauteng High court ruled on Thursday in a historic ruling for campaigners.
After months of testimonies Judge Billy Mothle today ruled that Timol was murdered and suffered massive head injuries.
The court called for an officer involved in covering up the circumstances of the 1971 death to be investigated as an accessory to murder.
— Valerie Joy Robinson (@ValerieJoy_R) October 12, 2017
The packed courtroom in Pretoria burst into applause after the judge delivered his damning ruling.
Ahmed Timol, a 29-year-old campaigner against white-minority rule, was arrested in Johannesburg in October 1971.
After five days in detention, he died after plummeting from the city’s police headquarters.
Officers from the feared security branch that held Timol said at the time he took his own life — a verdict endorsed by an inquest in 1972.
But his family fought the ruling for decades and have campaigned hard to secure the legal review, which finally began in June.
“Timol did not jump out of the window but was pushed out of the window or off the roof,” said judge Billy Mothle, reading a summary of his 129-page judgement.
“Members of the security branch… murdered Timol.”
The judge called for security branch officer Joao Rodrigues, who admitted helping cover up the murder, to be prosecuted, but he acknowledged that the men actually responsible have since died.
“Most of the main perpetrators have since passed on (but) all security branch officers responsible for guarding and interrogating Timol are collectively responsible for his injuries,” said Mothle.
– ‘Viva Ahmed Timol!’ –
Members of the South African Communist Party present shouted “Viva Ahmed Timol!” as the judge adjourned the hearing and the public gallery burst into applause.
“Judge Billy Mothle delivered a fine — a superb — judgement,” said Salim Essop who was arrested, detained and tortured alongside Timol in 1971.
“He concluded that the police were responsible for his death… they may not have intended to kill him but they did have the risk of killing him by torturing him and in that respect they were responsible for his murder.”
Mothle called for families who lost relatives in circumstances similar to Timol’s to be assisted in reopening their cases — especially when suicide was recorded as the cause of death.
George Bizos, an anti-apartheid icon who was close friends with Nelson Mandela, welcomed the outcome and said that the case had exposed how the era had been previously unaccountable.
The judge also praised Imtiaz Cajee, Timol’s nephew, for successfully reopening the case.
“His efforts should be elevated as an example of how citizens should assert their constitutional rights,” said Mothle.
For many, the case — the culmination of a relentless campaign by the activist’s family — has brought back raw memories of apartheid.
During the review, the Pretoria court heard from pathologists, former security officers and victims of apartheid brutality.
Their evidence triggered emotional responses in court 2D — including from the family who have been present at every hearing.
TNA Reporter additional reporting from AFP