Timol Judgement Brings Hope to Families of Victims of Torture

The Foundation for Human Rights welcomes the judgement handed down by Judge Billy Motlhe, in the Ahmed Timol Inquest

The Foundation for Human Rights (“FHR” or “Foundation”) welcomes the judgement handed down by Judge Billy Motlhe, in the Ahmed Timol Inquest, on 12 October 2017 in the Gauteng North High Court.

Judge Motlhe delivered the judgment in a courtroom filled with activists, members of the South African Communist Party and the Khulumani Support Group, among others. Judge Motlhe disagreed with the finding of apartheid magistrate, JL de Villiers, in which he found that Timol committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of the John Voster Square, now Central Johannesburg Police Station. The Judge found that Timol was either pushed from the 10th floor or the roof top.

Chairperson of the Supervisory Board of the Foundation, Thoko Mpumlwana, speaking during a press conference which was held in the courtroom where the judgement was delivered, described the ruling as “just the beginning”. Ms Mpumlwana was optimistic that families of Biko, Mabelane, Simelane, among others, will one day know the real truth behind the deaths of Steve Biko, Mathews Mabelane and Nokuthula Simelane.

Dr Marjorie Jobson, director of the Khulumani Support Group, a membership-based non-governmental organisation of more than 100 000 victims and survivors of Apartheid-related gross human rights violations in South Africa, commended the Timol family for contributing to the re-opening of the inquest. Dr Jobson is of the view that the inquest will go a long way in giving hope to families of victims who died in detention.

Following the judgement, former chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, paid a warm tribute to the family of Ahmed Timol. Tutu noted that 19 years after the TRC found the police directly responsible for Timol’s death, and the inquest a sham, the family finally succeeded in persuading the State to re-examine the case. Tutu says that while it is sad that the case took so long, and that there are many other TRC matters that have been left unresolved, it is worth mentioning that the Timol family has been driven not by vengeance but by the pursuit of the truth and justice. 

According to former commissioner of the TRC and current board member at the Foundation, Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, the judgement affirms the old adage that ‘the wheels of justice may grind slowly’. Advocate Ntsebeza explained that the judgment vindicates the TRC findings in which it rejected magistrate de Villiers’ finding that Timol had jumped to his death from the room in which he was being tortured and abused.

The Foundation commends Judge Motlhe for calling for an investigation into Joao Rodrigues, a former Security Branch member who was the last person to see Timol alive, for giving conflicting testimonies during the first inquest in 1972 and in the 2017 inquest.

The Judge maintained that even in death, Timol deserves the dignity of the restoration of his citizenship, like all South Africans. He entered the struggle and gave his life for that. Contrary to magistrate de Villiers, who identified him as ‘an Asian male’, Judge Motlhe emphasised that he was a South African citizen.

The Foundation is encouraged by the fact that the inquest revealed there are many more families seeking closure on unanswered questions concerning the death of their relatives in detention. The Foundation maintains that as a result of deliberate fabrication and withholding of information from the TRC, many perpetrators of human rights violations have escaped scrutiny and responsibility for their actions. We believe that truth has to be recorded not by the perpetrators but by their victims to enjoy any sense of credibility. 

The Foundation is also of the view that links need to be made between the perpetrators of apartheid and the institutional culture of impunity that remains a key element of how certain elements of the state function such as the security forces and intelligence. At the heart of the matter is whether these institutions were ever dismantled from their apartheid structures. These are important questions which the new South Africa is dealing with.

Imtiaz Cajee, Ahmed Timol’s nephew, says his plea to all South Africans is not to forget that there are many families throughout the country whose losses of loved ones at the hands of apartheid regime have never been adequately, if at all, acknowledged. His family urges both the National Director of Public Prosecutions and the National Prosecuting Authority to re-open all cases relating to the killing of political activists. This should be limited to only those killed in detention.

Cajee’s courage was acknowledged by George Bizos, a human rights lawyer, who also reminded all South Africans that “Justice is something you have to pursue…” Bizos reminded everyone that a single judgment can help and also congratulated the Timol family for taking up the matter. His courage was also acknowledged by Judge Motlhe who stated that “his efforts should be emulated as an example of how citizens have to assert their rights”.

Cajee’s uncle was among at least 73 political detainees who died while in the hands of the police between 1963 and 1990. Despite their killing, no one has ever been held responsible for any of their deaths.

In conclusion, the judge somehow endorsed the Foundation’s view that the survivors and the families of those who died in detention need to know the truth about how their loved ones were tortured and killed in order to get closure because each individual and every society has the right to know the truth about the past.

To view the full judgement, refer to www.fhr.org.za/index.php/download_file/1315.