Family of Ahmed Timol optimistic at arrest of ex apartheid-era cop

Imtiaz Cajee, Ahmed Timol’s nephew, has spearheaded the campaign to get justice for Ahmed Timol.
Imtiaz Cajee, Ahmed Timol’s nephew, has spearheaded the campaign to get justice for Ahmed Timol.

The family of slain anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol remains cautiously optimistic about today’s proceedings, after ex-security officer Joao Rodriguez handed himself over the police this morning, following a warrant of arrest that was issued against him.

Mixed with emotions over a matter which has taken almost 47 years to see light of day, Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, told City Press that it wasn’t just his uncle who was on his mind today, but the other families who still sought justice for the loss of their loved ones who were murdered during apartheid.

“It’s not just the Timol matter, there are so many other cases which I am thinking about which need to have their day in court too. I make a passionate plea to the likes of Jacques Pauw and Max du Preez, as well as other journalists who have been investigating and exposed apartheid hit squads to continue their jobs. Their investigations should not come to an end in this matter. Their role of exposing apartheid era crimes should not stop,” Cajee said.

Last year the North Gauteng High Court found that the anti-apartheid activist had died at the hands of apartheid state policemen and had not, as was initially ruled, died as a result of committing suicide.

Now the man who is the last known person to have seen Timol alive, former security police officer Rodriguez (80), who testified during the reopened inquest into Timol’s death last year, will be appearing at the North Gauteng High Court this morning on charges of murder and defeating the ends of justice.

Last year, during a gruelling four-month inquiry into the death of Timol, Rodriguez, along with several other state witnesses, including forensic pathologists, testified before Judge Billy Mothle into the events surrounding Timol’s death. The state had claimed that Timol had jumped to his death on October 27 1971 from what was then known as John Vorster Square. The square has today been renamed Johannesburg Central Police Station, and was widely known as the base where anti-apartheid activists were often held and kept under torturous conditions.

Last year Rodriguez claimed that he had seen Timol jump from the 10th window of the building, but Mothle had ruled that Rodriguez was an accomplice to his death and that Timol had died at the hands of security branch police.

In 2016, the National Prosecuting Authority agreed to reopen the case, setting a landmark investigation into a case that was 46 years old.

In 1972 Magistrate JJL de Villiers, who presided over the case at the time, ruled that Timol had committed suicide and that there was no foul play involved after he was arrested and held at John Vorster Square for interrogation by police.

Timol’s family had initiated their own investigation into his death and the NPA was presented with fresh, new evidence which suggested that De Villiers had erred in issuing such findings.

Timol was a teacher at the Roodepoort Indian High School. His days as a freedom fighter began after he underwent political training at the Lenin School in the Soviet Union in 1969, where he was accompanied by Thabo Mbeki and Mbeki’s girlfriend Ann Nicholson.

On his return to South Africa in 1970 he began building underground structures for the banned ANC and South African Communist Party. He had successfully distributed propaganda material by mailing lists across the country for 18 months.

On the evening of October 22 1971, Timol and medical student Saleem Essop were stopped at a police roadblock in Coronationville. They were taken to the Newlands Police Station where they were separated and were later moved to John Vorster Square Police Station.

Four days and 19 hours later, police alleged that Timol jumped to his death. By then, Essop was in hospital after being tortured to an inch of his life. 

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