No justice for the victims of apartheid

Ahmed Timols funeral in 1972.

ON OCTOBER 27, 1971, the parents
of South African anti-apartheid activist
Ahmed Timol were told that their
son had committed suicide by throwing himself out of the window of
room 1026 at John Vorster Square, the
notorious central Johannesburg police
Timol was a member of the SACP.
He was also a well-loved teacher. His
family were convinced he had been
murdered by the security police. 

view was widely accepted by everyone
who opposed the apartheid state.
Writing under his pen-name,
“Frank Talk”, the black consciousness
leader Steve Biko expressed his disdain
for the patently fabricated claims:
“The late Ahmed Timol was ‘prevented’ from dashing through the
door, but it was found impossible to
stop him from ‘jumping’ through the
10th floor window to his death.” 
A short time later magistrate JJLde
Villiers ruled at an inquest that no one
was responsible for Timol’s death.
It took 46 years for the truth about
Timol’s murder to be recognised in a
court of law. In 2017 the Timol inquest
was finally re-opened. On October 12
that year, Judge Billy Mothle delivered
a landmark judgment and overturned
the findings of the 1972 inquest.
The judgment affirmed what the
Timol family had maintained all
along – Ahmed Timol did not commit
suicide, but was murdered by members of the security branch after being
interrogated and tortured. 
Despite evidence of the transformation of South Africa’s criminal justice
system post-1994, this case is the first
to enact what can be properly understood as restorative justice.
A judge ordered that Joao “Jan”
Rodrigues, a security branch clerk and
ostensibly the last person to have seen
Timol before his death, be charged
with Timol’s murder and defeating
or obstructing the administration of
justice. Rodrigues has sought a permanent stay of prosecution, and judgment in the matter has been reserved. 
If the stay is granted, it will apply
not only to Rodrigues, but to all
former security branch and former
state agents, who would effectively be
exempt from being held to account for
their actions in the future.
Rodrigues’s defence has argued that
a trial would be unfair due to the time
that has lapsed since Timol’s murder.
In 2003 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report was
Three hundred cases involving gross violations of human rights
were handed to the National Prosecuting Authority on the understanding
they would be investigated and that
those responsible would be prosecuted.
On February 5 this year, 10 TRC
commissioners wrote to President Cyril
Ramaphosa calling for a commission
of inquiry to investigate why the TRC
cases have not been pursued. 
The commissioners argue that the
failure to investigate and prosecute
those who were not amnestied represents a betrayal of all those who
participated in good faith in the TRC
process, and undermines the very basis
of South Africa’s historic transition.
The re-opening of the Timol case
serves as a reminder that those responsible for committing atrocities have,
almost without exception, evaded
responsibility and have never been
held accountable for their deeds.
Kylie Thomas is an associate researcher at the
Institute for Reconciliation and Social
Justice at the University of the Free
State. This article first appeared in The