Timol Press Release: Press Conference

October 12, 2017


In September South Africa commemorated the killing in detention of anti-apartheid activists, Babla Saloojee (1964), Imam Haroon (1969) and Steve Biko (1977). 


They, and Ahmed Timol, were among at least 73 political detainees who died while in the hands of the police between 1963 and 1990. Nobody has ever been held responsible for any of those deaths.

In most instances, inquests did not take place. Deaths of political detainees were recorded as accidents or suicides, post mortem examinations went unrecorded – if they were held – and the bodies were buried as quickly as possible.

Although the Timol family never doubted that Uncle Ahmed was murdered by the police, and that the inquest was a cover-up, the fact that an inquest took place in 1972 ironically provided the spine of evidence needed to re-open the inquest 45 years later. It was a fatal flaw in the cover-up.

Without the medical records, for example, it would have been very difficult to persuade the NPA to re-open the case. This will present legal challenge for the families of those for whom medical records do not exist or have been destroyed.


My plea to all South Africans is not to forget that there are many families throughout the country whose losses of loved ones at the hands of apartheid have never been adequately, if at all, acknowledged. The Timol family urges the NDPP and NPA to reopen all cases relating to the killing of political activists, not only those killed in police detention. We would like to view the re-opened Timol inquest as a beginning, not an end.


I’d like to speak to our motivation for pursuing this action. We are a patriotic family living in a democratic society that Uncle Ahmed fought for, and for which he ultimately paid the highest sacrifice. When my grandmother, Uncle Ahmed’s mother, Mrs Hawa Timol – whom we called “Ma” – gave evidence to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 21 years ago, she made it very clear that what she sought was a revision of the official record that stated Uncle Ahmed committed suicide. My grandfather Mr Hajee Timol – “Papa” – had always been very clear that the family would not pursue a civil claim as it did not want to receive blood money. We who have survived Ma and Papa have tried to be faithful to their pursuit of the truth. We have never sought vengeance, and whenever I have approached former members of the security police involved in Uncle Ahmed’s interrogation I have always done so – explicitly – in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.


Having said that, the family was bitterly disappointed by the testimonies of former security policemen Els, Rodriques and Sons. It was our hope that they would break cover and tell the truth about what happened to Uncle Ahmed.

By sticking to their versions of not having ever witnessed torture, and only reading about in in the press, they lost an opportunity – not only for themselves, but also to contribute to South Africa’s greater reconciliation project. They might have set a precedent for other Security Police officers to assist other families to find answers about their loved ones.

Those former security police who choose to continue to subvert the truth and evade the law should be prosecuted, regardless of their age. The hunt for Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust continues.


I would like to pay a special tribute to my Uncle Mohammad Timol, Uncle Ahmed’s brother. Many people who lived through the pain that Uncle Mohammad did, not only his own pain but also that of his parents, would have exhibited some bitterness. But Uncle Mohammad never did. He couldn’t attend the funeral, because he was in detention, himself, but he did attend the entire sham inquest in 1972 along with his parents. Can you imagine the heartbreak, six months after the loss of your son and brother, of having to sit through one security branch policeman after another corroborating a pack of lies about the circumstances of his death? The agony of having to listen to the apartheid magistrate brand Ma a liar… of witnessing the effects of the loss on Papa’s health… of burying Ma before this matter could be settled? Uncle Mohammad has attended every day of the re-opened inquest, too, a calm and reassuring presence.


Forty-five years have passed since Magistrate de Villiers’ insulting ruling. It has been a long, uphill struggle, but 23 years into our democracy, the true circumstances of Ahmed Timol’s death have finally been ventilated, and the official record revised. I wish to thank Mr Justice Billy Mothle, not for his ruling, but for the manner in which he conducted the proceedings. Above his knowledge of the law he showed the compassionate face of justice; the family was never in any doubt that the matter was in good hands. Ma and Papa (their souls can now rest in peace) are undoubtedly smiling from the heavens.



There are many individuals, organisations and institutions I would like to thank for assisting to re-open the inquest.  They include the FHR, LRC, WW, and the former detainees and expert witnesses who testified.


I wish to thank the media, past and present, for its sterling coverage of Uncle Ahmed’s death. The coverage that journalists – locally and internationally – gave the case in 1971 pressured the apartheid regime into conducting an inquest.


You lot have been fantastic in your follow-through.


Thank you.



Finally, the inquest finding concludes an important aspect of our journey, but the journey, itself, continues. There are other families seeking closure who could do with our assistance, there is an exhibition on Uncle Ahmed’s life and death to be updated (funding please!) – and investigations and conclusions to be finalised ahead of the publication of the second edition of my book on Uncle Ahmed.



Thank you, once again.




2 Responses to “Timol Press Release: Press Conference”

  1. Aslam Khota says:

    Dearest Imtiaz,
    I shed a tear today. Uncle Ahmed and his parents join you in this silent, heartfelt victory for justice, and are beaming with pride on you exposing the now faceless monsters, their masters and their evil deeds.
    Justice is found, but not served (yet).
    Your journey to uncover the truth is a story in its own right. It began in earnest with the first few lines of the manuscript sometime in 1996 (?). The subsequent publication of the book, your relentless and energised pursuit for the truth, the passion and vigour with which you undertook this (almost) impossible task is simply admirable.
    Honestly, I lost heart over the years. I felt this was an exercise in futility, especially when you consider how ambivalent the democratic government remained since the TRC, and their failure to re-open the case/cases.
    This was your life’s purpose. Your story will inspire many other families of victims of Apartheids criminals. Now many of them will follow the trend you have set and leave no stone unturned in seeking their truth, their closure.
    Your determination in the face of insurmountable challenges and odds is a sure bet for an epic movie or TV series. I am dead serious.
    Well done. We will surely remember Ahmed, aunty Hawa and uncle Hajee in our prayers. May they finally rest in peace in their lofty stage in Heaven. We share their joy, your joy and the rest of the family and those that supported you throughout.
    We pray for your health and well being too.

  2. Dear Imtiaz,
    Thank you for the hope you have ignited in so many families that has confirmed the intuitive knowledge held by so many that the cover-ups and fabrications of the brutal apartheid security police machinery that killed their loved ones, were all lies, that have finally been exposed. Thank you for keeping Khulumani and its over 100,000 members informed every step of the way towards alerting each affected family that justice may eventually be found so that we can share the solace of the poutcome that was delivered in Court 2D last Thursday. It was a victory, although so hard won. I think that Tymon Smith in his column today (Sunday Times) correctly attributes the the creation of the environment “in which thousands of anti-apartheid activists were detained and tortured by the security forces” to Balthazar Johannes Vorster. He points out that prior to the appointment of B J Vorster as Minister of Justice, the security police were not torturers and he asserts that “the blood of those who died in detention is as mush on the hands of the man who created the conditions for these deaths as it is on the hands of those who actually pushed Timol to his death.” He continues, “Mothle’s finding is the first of many nails that need to be knocked into Vorster’s coffin before his baleful influence can be buried.”

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