Johannesburg - A ghost long believed dead is alive and could solve the 45-year-old mystery of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol's death.
The Timol family were shocked to hear this week that three policemen who interacted with their lost loved one at the time of his death were still alive.
Police sergeant Joao Rodriques told investigators 45 years ago that he was in the room when Timol allegedly leapt to his death from the notorious 10th floor of John Vorster Square, now known as Johannesburg Central police station. The Timol family had believed Rodriques and other policemen involved in Ahmed's interrogation were long dead.
But this week the family learnt that not only were three of the policemen still alive, but they would be subpoenaed to appear in the reopened inquest into Timol’s death.
“The gods above have intervened. We, the family, can’t comprehend it,” says Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Cajee.
“Our investigations had come to the conclusion that they had passed on.”
Besides Rodriques, the two other policemen are N Els and JP Fourie.
On Thursday, Judge Billy Mothle told the high court in Joburg that he would issue subpoenas.
“To the extent that such officers may still be alive, I’m authorised through the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions that subpoenas must be issued for those officers to testify,” the judge told the court.
The men were expected to appear in court when the inquest into Timol’s death next sits this month.
Cajee has for the last 20 years been trying to piece together what happened to his uncle after he was detained and taken to John Vorster Square in October, 1971.
At his home, Cajee even has a reconstruction of the roadblock where his uncle was stopped by police.
Cajee had been pushing for a reopening of inquest into Timol’s death.
This week the family got their wish with the start of it, which they hoped would overturn the 1972 finding that Ahmed committed suicide.
On June 22, 1972, magistrate JJL de Villiers found Timol had committed suicide and no one was to blame for his death.
His finding relied heavily on the testimony of Rodriques who stated Timol had asked to go to the toilet and had rushed passed him to the window.
The high court this week heard harrowing details from Salim Essop, who was detained with Timol, about how he was given electric shocks, had a plastic bag placed over his head and was dangled by his feet over a staircase.
Essop told how he saw who he believed to be Timol being dragged by two policemen. The court was also shown the exact spot on the 10th floor from where Timol was believed to have plunged to his death.
"It has been an emotional experience,” says Cajee.
For historian Nicky Rousseau, what was heard in court this week was further proof of the torture being used by the apartheid security police.
The use of torture had evolved since the early 1960s, shortly after Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed. “People talk of the old police who didn't torture,” she says. “Then they set up the sabotage squad and they got into heavy-duty torture.”
By the 1970s people such as Timol were dying in detention but this underwent a change when Steve Biko died in 1977.
“The state got a lot of flak internationally in the wake of Biko’s death. It was a high political cost for them. After Biko they had to find another solution and make the bodies disappear. At least for our family we have a grave, where we can go to,” says Cajee.
But the question now is whether the old policemen will talk. Many former security police have gone to their graves with their secrets and it's thought the trio might stick to their original testimonies for fear of prosecution. But for Timol’s family there is now hope. “We are counting the days until they appear,” says Cajee.