For the family of murdered anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol it has taken decades for the truth to emerge.
In October last year Judge Billy Mothle handed down the judgment that would vindicate the family’s long quest for justice and found that Timol had been murdered by Security Branch police.
He recommended that Jan Rodrigues, now 80, who was the officer who claimed to have been there when Timol fell from a window on the 10th floor of the notorious John Vorster Square police station in 1971, should be investigated for perjury. The judge also recommended that former security branch officers, Neville Els and Seth Sons (both 82), should be investigated for misleading the court.
Q: Every cold case has that defining moment that allows it to be solved. What was the defining moment in the Ahmed Timol case?
A: We believed that all of the police officers who were with my uncle at the time of his death knew that he had been thrown to his death. When we started going to the NPA to ask them to reopen the inquest, we were told there was no new evidence.
We did not stop trying and went to the media to keep the case alive. One day, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from the daughter of Joao Rodrigues, and she told me that her father was still alive.
Rodrigues, a sergeant in the apartheid regime’s security branch, was present in the room when my uncle died. She had found me through my website and contacted me so that she could help us find closure.
Q: When Judge Mothle announced that your uncle had been murdered, how did the family react?
A: We were in a state of shock, overwhelmed that we had finally reached this stage. Many families had taken it for granted that their loved ones had been killed by the apartheid regime, and there would be no recourse. For the first time in a democratic South Africa it was official that he had not committed suicide.
Q: The NPA has yet to finalise its investigations into Rodrigues, Els and Sons. What is the family’s view on this?
A: The NPA does provide us with regular updates. The last time I heard from them they told me that the dockets had been moved to their priority investigations unit.
That was more than three months ago, and the officers have not appeared in court. We believe they have valuable information, and it is now time to make a truthful and full disclosure.
The information they have is critical and I urge them to reveal what they know, even if it is in exchange for a plea bargain.
Q: What must South Africans learn from the sacrifice of Timol and others?
A: We are in the process of updating the Ahmed Timol exhibition and we are hoping to expose South Africans, especially younger citizens, to uncle Ahmed’s life.
We have received local and international funding, and we have the rights to last year’s inquest. The exhibition will include a multimedia component and feature personal artifacts and clippings.
Q: If your uncle were alive today, how would he feel about South Africa?
A: He would have uttered the same sentiments as comrades Kathrada (Ahmed) and Chiba (Laloo), and many others.
Chris Hani sounded numerous warnings about the trappings of wealth and power. My uncle and countless South Africans became activists because they believed that all South Africans should be treated the same – they did not do this for wealth and recognition. They placed their lives on the line for a better country for all South Africans.