The late Ahmed Timol: re-opened inquest, a hope for the truth

The late Ahmed Timol: re-opened inquest, a hope for the truth

As South Africans, we should take a collective responsibility in striving to build our country. This we should do by acknowledging our history in its totality without failing to tell the truth and taking responsibility in whatever a role we played in what took place over several years of oppression, colonialism, apartheid and the struggles we waged in order to defeat the demons of the white minority government.

In his ‘note by a friend’ on the book Timol: A Quest for Justice former Minister in the Presidency Mr. Essop Pahad writes: ‘Ahmed died a wretched death at the tender age of 29. In his short life, he had accumulated knowledge that many do not store up in a lifetime. He was rigorous and informed, politically and theoretically, and showed acute insight into South African politics and international affairs and an exemplary commitment to our national liberation…. The movement for national liberation remained strong, and will continue to be strong in our hard-won democracy because of people like Ahmed Timol.’

Ahmed Timol died in police detention on October 27 1971. He was only 29 years old. His death left many serious questions since then until to this day. In a month’s time it will be forty six years since the gruesome death of this servant of the people and the answers are yet to be told. It was claimed at the time by the police that he had jumped to his death from the 10th floor of the then John Vorster Square police station. Recently and through the efforts and hard work of his nephew Imtiaz Cajee, a determination is to be made by Judge Billy Mothle who presided on the reopened inquest as to what exactly happened and how Ahmed Timol died.

Several former policemen, his comrades, those who were detained with him, forensic pathologists, eye witnesses and representatives of his family appeared before the court and testified. The enquiry delivered yet another reminder to the South African society that the country is still far from closure and healing. Perhaps after Judge Mothle’ s pronouncement on the matter the country will open up to a new path towards healing and prosperity and proper reconciliation through truth telling. It is a fact that many more families are still in the dark as to what exactly happened to their loved ones.

On his dedication on the book Timol: A Quest for Justice, the Author and Ahmed Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee writes: ‘To my beloved Uncle Ahmed who will always remain an inspiration in my life, and all detainees who died in South African police detention, and all detainees who have been tortured by the apartheid police.’ This unselfish statement is obviously not another way by the Author to score some limelight points, it is a true reflection of the feelings of a victim to other victims who suffered under the same atrocities.

It is therefore hoped that the Timol family will at last get some closure when Judge Mothle pronounces his findings. It is equally expected that the government would assist to facilitate the re-opening of other inquests as lodged by other families notably the Nokuthula Simelane’s, Neil Aggett’s and many more unresolved deaths in apartheid police detention. All of these should indeed be understood against the backdrop of nation building through closure and healing of the affected families.

At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ma Hawa, the late Ahmed Timol’s mother pleaded with the police officers who were responsible for her son’s detention, torture and death to tell her the truth about what happened. She never got the answer or the true story of what happened to her eldest son.


The democratic government through the TRC failed to some extent to ensure that perpetrators were subpoenaed to appear and testify. Only a few policemen appeared before the commission and yet they were economic with the truth about their role in the atrocities. It is this gap that will continue to haunt the collective conscience of South African and which will put the country on tenterhooks for a long time to come.

Imtiaz Cajee has worked so tirelessly to ensure that the family gets to the bottom of the matter. He has in part up to this moment achieved a lot just by getting the inquest reopened. He was, so as his family totally dissatisfied with the outcomes of the 1972 inquest in which the apartheid government exonerated itself from the gruesome death of his beloved Uncle Ahmed. The testimonies at the reopened inquest apparently differ a lot with the previous one in which no one wanted to take responsibility for the death of Uncle Ahmed. One can safely say, the first inquest was a farce and a cover up.

One of the gravest mistakes made by the new democratic government was to treat the South African history like a passing chapter. It should have known that the truth will always remain no matter how hard one tries to suppress it. That many of these deaths and disappearances remain unresolved is something that will haunt our country for years to come. The South African democratic government needs to facilitate for fair and open debates so that society can understands where the country comes from and where it has resolved to go in terms of the rebuilding project as guided by the Constitution.

Civil society and educational institutions in particular should seize the opportunity to document and preserve the rich history of our country. Around this heritage month there were supposed to be the hosting of a multitude of activities in celebration of our heritage including of course the history of the national liberation struggle which brought about the freedom we enjoy today. The re-opened inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol is just one of those necessary ways the country should use to liberate itself of its ugly past and to move forward into prosperity and equality.

It is therefore encouraging to realise that people like Imtiaz Cajee and the Timol family are not only concerned about themselves but the whole of other families that went through the same agony. The peace loving members of these families should be rewarded with the truth so that they can get closure and to heal. As closure manifests and healing begin, they should also be reasonably compensated financially so as to assist them to better their lives. Their healing will also be very important for the development of peace and prosperity in the country. How beautiful it would be if South Africans can work together to close the social gap and confine inequality to the dustbin of history. Poverty and unemployment is never a reliable security for a country. The victims of the dark side of our history should be taken care of so that they can eke out a living on their own, not through handouts dispensed through patronage.

On the 29th March 1999, on the occasion of the renaming of Azaadville Secondary School to Ahmed Timol Secondary School the late former President Nelson Mandela said the following about Ahmed: ‘There are also things that he would have fought against, such as corruption, theft and unaccountable leaders. Many youngsters today know little or nothing of the proud legacy left by our heroes. He would have wanted the youth, all of you, to be firm in your knowledge of where you come from.’ Such was a profound awareness and knowledge of the Great Madiba as to the importance of preserving one’s history in order to build a stable and prosperous future.

As the country await Judge Mothle to pronounce his findings credit should go to Imtiaz Cajee for the good work he has delivered. His efforts have opened eyes and minds of the people of South Africa, Africa and the world. We were able to witness what sometimes appeared to be jokes on a serious matter when some of the former policemen resorted to selective recollection of events about the same matter. As they say time will tell.


Goldrick Mafologela

015 0040 430

Politics & Governance


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