Johannesburg – The cousin of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol wept as he recalled how he could not shed a tear when he saw Timol’s wounded lifeless body because it would put him at risk of arrest by the security branch police.
With a lump in his throat, Farouk Dindar was forced to hold back his tears when the white sheet was unwrapped, revealing Timol's body ahead of his Muslim burial ceremony.
"When I saw Ahmed’s body, I was so shocked that I wanted to cry but I did not cry because within that room I expected someone to be a spy.
"I just felt like if I showed too much emotion towards Ahmed, I will be the 22nd person to get arrested because they would think that I am hiding something."
Speaking outside court room 2D at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria where the Ahmed Timol inquest is being heard, Dindar said he flew all the way from Canada, where he is permanently residing, just to hear the testimonies.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) reopened the inquest after the family asked to present new evidence.
Timol’s death in 1971 had been ruled a suicide. Police told the initial inquest in 1972 that Timol had jumped out of a window on the 10th floor at John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg Central Police Station.
Timol’s family has always disputed this and has always believed that Timol was killed by the security branch police during his interrogation as a detainee.
Tuesday marked Day 12 of the inquest where Dindar listened to former security police sergeant Jan Rodrigues being cross-examined.
Dindar, 74, from Toronto, told News24 that he arrived in South Africa on Monday. "I was born in Breyten, the same town as Ahmed."
'He conscientised me'
Dindar's father and Timol's mother were siblings. He left South Africa in 1966 and returned in 1971, spent three years in South Africa and then returned to Canada.
"I was here at the time of Ahmed's arrest and his death in 1971."
The father of three, who is a neurologist by profession, said Timol was his political mentor.
"He conscientised me. Every time I met him he took it upon himself to conscientise me about the sufferings of the Africans."
The day before Timol was arrested, Dindar visited him at his apartment. "I was staying with my in-laws in Roodepoort.
"I chatted with him but we did not discuss what he was doing politically. We used to talk about world affairs. We discussed things from a socialist to Marxist point of view.
"Socialism and Marxism was a thing at the time, in the 60's and 70's. It is like Black Lives Matter today."
Dindar said Timol was fine and in good health when he last saw him.
"The next day I hear that he is arrested… Four days later we hear he has died and his body was returned to the flat."
Dindar said he heard that Timol had been arrested for his involvement in underground work from other members of the family.
"We heard more than 20 people had been arrested and anyone who knew Ahmed was arrested. I went into intense fear because I might be the 22nd one to be arrested.” Dindar said his wife was so afraid that she would wake up in the middle of the night and say, "The cops are coming to pick you up Farouk". Dindar, however, was not arrested.
"So then his body was brought to the family’s flat. The Muslim funeral proceedings are that the body is washed and then covered in a white sheet.
"I went to the flat and Ahmed's family opened the sheet and I saw his body from his legs up to the head and I was struck by wounds on his body." Dindar said the wounds were not deep.
"They were round multiple wounds that looked like puncher wounds or electric shock wounds and when I listened to how others were tortured, I think those were burns from electric shocks. That is the conclusion that I made," said Dindar, who was already a medical registrar at the time.
Electrocution and fractured skull
He said Timol's fractured skull did not shock him because he was a medical doctor and he was used to seeing dead bodies.
"Also the body fell 10 feet down. I found his wounds very interesting."
Dindar said he could not comment on the pathology reports but strongly believed that the wounds on Timol's body were sustained during the electrocution.
"I am a neurologist and I do electrical tests on nerves and muscles so I know how careful you have to be when giving electrical signals. If it is near the heart, the heart stops. So I always ask myself if his heart stopped during the electric shock. The other physical tortures are separate."
Despite what he saw and believed, Dindar said he would allow Judge Billy Mothle to make his own findings after listening to the testimonies.
"Muslims believe that you should bury within 24 hours so Timol's body was then taken to the Roodepoort Cemetery. They carried his body in the coffin and then people took turns filling the soil."
Because everyone who had come from England was on a watch list, Dindar had to be extra cautious during the ceremonies.
"A policeman who was friends with my father told him to tell me to watch out, all my mail was being opened.
"The same thing happened at the funeral. I did not cry because I said I just had to show that I am distant with Ahmed because crying would make it easier for the security branch. It would have easily linked me to Ahmed," said Dindar.
'I started crying'
The elderly man never got to mourn his cousin.
"I only mourned about 15 years ago when Timol's nephew, Imtiaz, wrote to me to tell me that he is writing a book. So that morning I received a letter saying, 'I am Ahmed's nephew and I found your email from your website'. It was 03:00 and I started crying," said Dindar who was overwhelmed with emotion.
"So after 35 years, I did all the crying I did not do in South Africa. It was hard," he said as tears welled in his eyes, which were shielded by his reading glasses.
Dindar said it was not difficult to sit and listen to the testimonies presented at the fresh inquest.
"It is repetition. I was there at the inquest in 1972 and this is repetition except that the audience is different, the judge is different but it feels like I am reliving the whole thing again."
He said he was in South Africa for two days.
"I hope that this is the beginning of determining how other detainees died and I think there is more to this because the world is showing interest.
"I think this is a historic precedent that after 46 years, you can raise issues." Dindar said people who lived through apartheid already know the truth.
"The cover up might be blown but even if it is not, the people know that he did not commit suicide, anyone that knew Ahmed knows that he did not commit suicide."
He said he remembers Timol as being a very gentle person.
"He was giving and had a soft heart.
"He had the desire to educate people. He was a born teacher and he was able to select material relevant to the person's ability to absorb. He would be able to discuss issues at my level. He knew how to conscientise people," said Dindar.