As It Happens

Judge finds anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol was murdered

A South African inquest has validated what Ahmed Timol's family has been saying for years — the anti-apartheid activist didn't take his own life.
Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of Ahmed Timol, an anti-apartheid activist who died in police custody in October 1971, holds a portrait of his uncle at his house on May 25, 2017 in Pretoria. (Gianluigi Gercia/AFP/Getty Images)

Update: A South African inquest ruled on Oct. 12 that anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol was murdered in 1971, debunking the official police story that he took his own life, the BBC reports. Judge Billy Mothle said Timol was pushed out the window of the building where he was being held by apartheid police.The ruling validates what Timol's family has been saying for decades. Read our August interview with the activist's nephew Imtiaz Cajaee below.


Story transcript

Imtiaz Cajee says a South African inquest is hearing evidence of what his family always knew: that his uncle, the anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, did not kill himself.

Timol died in October 1971, after falling from a 10th-floor window at the notorious John Vorster Square station of the Special Branch of the South African Police.

An inquest at the time upheld the police account of his death — that the Soviet-trained activist had killed himself to avoid confessing to his crimes against the apartheid state.

Imtiaz Cajee on his uncle

Now, after years of advocacy by Cajee and other members of the Timol family, a new inquest is underway in the capital city of Pretoria. 

Cajee spoke with As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay. Here is part of their conversation: 

What's it like to attend this inquest now, after all of this time? 

It's been a very difficult three weeks of court proceedings.

For somebody who has spent his entire life probing and finding out about the life of my beloved uncle — spending hours with my maternal grandmother, reading newspaper cuttings, looking at photo albums, listening to my grandmother's testimony at the TRC hearings in 1996 — but we never imagined that we would get an opportunity to reopen the inquest almost 46 years after my uncle's death.

A photograph of Ahmed Timol from his family's archives. (Ahmed Timol Family Trust)

The last three weeks have been very emotional, very tough, very mentally draining, exhausting. But at the end of the day it's something that has got to happen, and we cannot run away from our tragic past.

It's a grim reminder to us as to what not just the Timol family but many other families throughout the length and breadth of South Africa had gone through. It's been a very, very difficult three weeks. 

Why is it so important to you that this inquest take place some 46 years after your uncle's death?

I think it's very important for us to preserve and to honour his legacy and dignity. 

Secondly, most importantly, we want the annals of history to correctly reflect that Ahmed Timol did not commit suicide, because this is the official finding from 1972.

And I think most importantly, in a current South Africa, his death and the deaths of so many other people should inspire us as a people and as a nation to build our beloved country. 

Mourners carry the casket containing Ahmed Timol's body in October 1971. (Ahmed Timol Family Trust)

If the inquest should uphold the 1972 ruling that your uncle, Ahmed Timol, that his death was a suicide, would you accept that? 

If that is the finding of a democratic South Africa, we'll have to respect the decision of the appointed judge. Because we feel that we were given a fair opportunity, an impartial judge, unlike the one that managed proceedings in 1972, and we will definitely respect the decision of Judge Mothle in this particular inquest. 

The Johannesburg Central Police Station, formerly known as John Vorster Square which was the site of the death of political activist and detainee Ahmed Timol. (Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

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