Timol family hopes for truth from Security Branch policeman

The trial is set to be the first trial into the death of an anti-apartheid activist in detention in South Africa’s democratic era.

The trial is set to be the first trial into the death of an anti-apartheid activist in detention in South Africa’s democratic era.

As the trial into the murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol looms, the Timol family has made an appeal to the former Security Branch policeman accused of the young activist’s murder to tell the truth about how he was killed.

Imtiaz Cajee, Timol’s nephew who helped reopen the inquest into his death last year, has said that if former security cop Joao Rodrigues comes forward with the truth, then the family would avoid pursuing a prison sentence in court.

Cajee made the offer to Rodrigues on Monday, a day before the family will head to the Johannesburg high court for a pre-trial hearing set down for Tuesday, where the dates for the trial might be finalised.

“If he were to tell the truth the family would support Rodrigues receiving a non-custodial sentence.
Ours has never been a quest for vengeance,” said Cajee.

The landmark trial comes after a 47-year quest for justice which Cajee has tenaciously led. Last year, the Timol family altered the history books when the reopened inquest into the slain freedom fighter’s death found that he had been tortured and murdered during his detention in John Vorster Square (now Johannesburg Central police station) in October 1971.

Rodrigues was in the room with Timol when he supposedly “jumped” from the 10th floor of the building. At the initial inquest into Timol’s death in 1972, security police told the magistrate that Timol had killed himself because it was the protocol of the South African Communist Party — whom Timol served under — that their members should die if they were detained by the police.

At the reopened inquest, former SACP activists told Judge Billy Mothle, who presided over the case, that it was never SACP policy for members to kill themselves if they were detained. Rodrigues also took the stand, where he testified that he “could not recall” certain events that transpired in the days leading up to Timol’s death, and he denied ever being involved in torturing Timol.

Rodrigues, while under oath before Mothle, stuck to script he had read in 1972, insisting Timol’s death was the result of suicide. But the judge, after listening to testimony from forensic experts, found otherwise and overturned the previous inquest findings.

READ MORE: Timol ruling ‘just the beginning’

“Timol did not jump out of the window but was pushed out of the window or off the roof,” said Mothle, reading a summary of his 129-page judgment.“Members of the security branch … murdered Timol.” 

Rodrigues has now been charged with Timol’s murder and perjury. As the last known Security Branch member to be present with Timol when he was killed, Rodrigues’s testimony could be tantamount to delivering a witness account of Timol’s final moments before he died.

“To be honest, we did not foresee prosecutions following the re-opened inquest. All we have ever sought, as a family, is for Uncle Ahmed’s murderers to tell the truth,” Cajee said.

“We understand that Rodrigues was part of a closed apartheid security system with which it would have been difficult to break ranks. However, the system that protected him in the past no longer has the power to do so. He has been left exposed.

The trial is set to be the first trial into the death of an anti-apartheid activist in detention in South Africa’s democratic era. What Cajee hopes is that the truth will finally be told. “It is not too late for Rodrigues to state what really happened,” he said.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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