Seeking justice as a way of life
IN PURSUIT of justice, Imtiaz Cajee spent 21 years uncovering the truth of his late uncle, anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Timol’s death. Timol was arrested on October 22, 1971, at a roadblock near Coronationville, Johannesburg, and died in detention five days later.
Apartheid police claimed Timol jumped to his death from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square Police Station (now Johannesburg Central Police Station).
In October last year, 46 years after Timol’s death, Judge Billy Mothle handed down his landmark verdict in the Timol case at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. He found that Timol did not commit suicide but was pushed to his death by apartheid security branch officers. Cajee, 51, who was only five-years-old when his uncle was brutally murdered, said: “When I was a little boy I remember I wanted to join the ANC’S military wing, Umkontho we Sizwe to avenge the killing of my uncle.”
Describing his childhood memories of his famous uncle, he said: “I have precious memories of watching uncle Ahmed swim at the Roodepoort Muslim Club. We would drive around in the yellow Ford Anglia (the one in which he was stopped at a police roadblock) and we would visit Amina Desai’s residence in Roodepoort. She was sentenced to five years imprisonment for her association with uncle Ahmed.”
Cajee said his forefathers came from the village of Kholvad in India, situated 15km from Surat, in Gujarat, on the banks of the Tapei River. He has done extensive research on the history of his forefathers and was a co-editor of the Madressa Anjuman Islamia of Kholvad (MAIK) centenary celebration Timol’s death. This was until he commenced probing what happened to Timol. He said his family supported him in his endeavours to preserve and honour Ahmed’s legacy.
“My probing commenced in January 1978, when uncle Mohammad went into exile. His sudden unexplained departure devastated me and I commenced probing his disappearance and the death of uncle Ahmed,” said Cajee.
“I formally commenced my journey after Ma testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings in April 1996. Ma saw uncle Ahmed early on Friday evening, October 22, 1971.He was healthy and free of any injures. A week later, his body was returned with numerous injuries. Ma wanted to know what happened to her son and who was responsible for his death. I have continued dedicating my life to preserving my uncle’s legacy through various initiatives. I wanted to get to bottom of this and prove my uncle’s innocence – he would never have taken his own life.”
Driven by his desire to understand who Timol was and what drove him to sacrifice his life for freedom in South Africa was a major factor influencing Cajee on his journey. He said he was grateful to his wife, who unconditionally supported him and allowed him to spend quality time on projects related to Timol’s death.
He said over the years he acquired numerous friends who supported him in his quest for the truth, entertaining and sometimes complaining about his numerous e-mails usually sent in the early hours of the morning.
After the historic judgment by judge Mothle on October 12, 2017, numerous other families (with loved ones who were killed in police detention) are depending on him for assistance.
Cajee has sought to offer them hope in finding some sense of closure. This expectation, he said, gave him additional incentive to continue with his work.
Now Cajee wants the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to charge the three former security police officers who were in detention room 1026 on the day Timol died, in line with the ruling made by Mothle.
“The processes within the
NPA are extremely slow and I question if they have the political will to do so,” said Cajee. “I am busy raising funds for updating the Ahmed Timol Exhibition to include Judge Mothle’s findings.
“I am planning a national roadmap this year for hosting the exhibition. I also want the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to purchase my 2005 book: Timol – A Quest for Justice to use as set-work in all schools. The book records the life of Ahmed Timol. It is important for people to know about the sacrifices he made contributing towards the liberation of South Africa. I have received interest from the Western Cape Education Department to use this book in their 2018 history curriculum.”
Cajee’s book was published in 2005 with the help of Essop Pahad and his wife Meg, Professor Sifiso Ndlovu and Tony Heard.
He is busy with his second manuscript and is intending to release his new book in October 2018. He said he would continue to assist families of political activists killed by the apartheid police in seeking justice and closure.
Many people in his community were sceptical that he would succeed with his endeavours and there were many occasions, he said, when he was on his own. It was “through prayer” that he acquired the strength to continue on his journey, he said. “God has sent numerous individuals in my path at appropriate times. I believe that this is my life’s calling,” said Cajee.
While Timol’s case was gruelling for his family – listening to expert evidence on how Timol was beaten to death was “incredibly painful” said Cajee, Cajee said he tried to visualise the torture in his mind and consoled himself with a silent prayer as he heard the forensic pathologist describe the injuries and wounds on Timol’s body.
Hearing the judge’s verdict left him feeling “overwhelmed and emotional.” Now he wants the men involved in his uncle’s death to make full disclosures about what happened to Timol.
He said they had valuable information that would bring him closure.
Cajee said there were many people who shaped the person he is today. His mother taught him to be disciplined, punctual, to speak the truth, and to show commitment and perseverance.
His former manager, Madan Dayal taught him work ethics and how to take pride in his work.
People like David Robb and Professor David Power who invested in his work even though he had no academic qualifications, gave him confidence that he was on track, and Benny Gool and Rodger Freedman encouraged him to search for the truth irrespective of the odds stacked against him.
“I have been referred to as a ‘seeker of the truth’, ‘relentless’, ‘passionate’, and ‘driven in the quest for justice’,” said Cajee. “But I would like for people to remember me as a nephew who kept his uncle’s legacy alive and with perseverance historically reversed the apartheid finding of 1972. This I believe has contributed to the building of our beloved country.”