Johannesburg - “My father was a lot stronger, but my mother relived this pain throughout her life.”
These were the sorrowful words of Mohammed Timol, describing how his parents dealt with the mysterious yet tragic death of his older brother, Ahmed Timol, at the hands of apartheid security police in 1971.
Mohammed was speaking to The Star on the sidelines of the reopened inquest into his brother's death, which began on Monday at the high court in Joburg.
The inquest, brought by Timol’s family, aims on overturning a June 1972 ruling by magistrate JL de Villiers that Timol had committed suicide by jumping out of the 10th floor of the infamous John Vorster Square, currently known as Johannesburg Central police station.
The presiding officer in the reopened inquest, Judge J Mothle, said in court on Monday he had no doubt that this process would rekindle painful memories and open a door “which will cause all of us to confront the sordid part of our history”.
This is the “sordid history” that Mohammed said his mother, especially, lived with - saying security police harassed his parents for the five days after his brother's arrest leading up to his death.
Both Timol’s parents have since died.
“They (security police) were at our flat daily, looking for things, intimidating my parents and so on,” Mohammed explained.
“The day before they came to inform my mother that Ahmed was dead, she asked one of the security policemen in Afrikaans, ‘Please, I want to see my son’. And the security policeman said, ‘You will not see your son. You did not give him a hiding when he was small - we are now giving him a hiding.’ That was the humiliation for my mother.”
Two witnesses were called to give testimony in court on Monday, where gruesome details emerged from Dr Salim Essop about how he said he was “brutally tortured” by security police at John Vorster Square.
Essop was arrested with Ahmed after a car they were travelling in was stopped by apartheid police. Banned SACP and ANC literature was found in the car.
Essop told the court about a range of torture tactics he said were meted out against him, including being tied with a plastic bag around his head to a point where he said he felt like he was suffocating, being kicked repeatedly in a method known as “mule kickers”, and being subjected to electric shocks that caused him “excruciating pain”.
Essop added that he was held upside down on the 10th floor of the notorious prison after being subjected to roughly five days of torture and was told he would be dropped.
“I was in such pain that if they (police) dropped me at that moment, it would have been fine,” Essop said while choking up with emotion.
Speaking to The Star after his testimony, Essop asserted that while it was not nice to relive “the nightmarish experience” of his torture, he felt good about publicly relaying it as he hoped it would help other people.
“Maybe it's a way to come to terms with realities that we lived under during the apartheid era. In a way we want closure; just as in the way the Timol family want closure about Ahmed’s death, I want closure about all the horrendous experiences I had in the hands of the security police,” he emphasised.
It also emerged from the inquest's investigating officer, Captain Benjamin Nel, that only three officials involved in Timol’s mysterious death were still alive.
They are Warrant Officer N Els, who was called to identify the communist documents found with Timol and Essop; Sergeant J Rodrigues, who was a clerk at John Vorster; and Sergeant JP Fourie, who worked at the state mortuary and received Timol’s mortal remains.
The inquest was to continue on Tuesday with an on-site inspection of the old John Vorster Square.