The Timol family’s advocate, Howard Varney, and Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of Ahmed Timol at the High Court in Pretoria
It was perhaps the most poignant and heart-rending moment in the life of activist Imtiaz Cajee.
His now late grandmother was attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings into the mysterious death of her son, Ahmed Timol, when she took young Cajee aside and made him vow he would do all in his power to ensure the truth would prevail in the case.
The truth, the old woman was convinced, was that her son did not commit suicide by jumping from the 10th floor window of John Vorster Square, as police claimed, in 1971, but that he was murdered.
This week, Cajee’s relentless search for the truth was partly vindicated when an 80-year-old retired sergeant Joao Roderiques appeared in the Joburg Magistrate’s Court for Timol’s murder, which prosecution authorities believe is the first step into a much wider probe into the suspicious deaths of many other anti-apartheid activists.
Roderiques’s arrest came after a ruling by Judge Billy Mothle in the High Court in Pretoria last year that Timol was killed by members of the security branch and did not commit suicide.
Roderiques was granted bail of R2000, and the matter has been transferred to the High Court in Joburg.
In a candid interview with the Independent Media this week, Cajee said the arrest left him with mixed feelings.
“He (Roderiques) has had a number of opportunities to break ranks with his former security police superiors and tell the truth. Instead, he stuck to his story, discredited as it was by medical and trajectory experts who gave evidence at the re-opened inquest last year. He must therefore face the consequences of his actions.”
Cajee, who has left no stone unturned in his pursuit of the truth in this historic case, said on the one hand, seeing Roderiques in court did give him a sense of relief and a measure of closure.
“I felt that, with the help of others I have fulfilled the promise I made after my late grandmother’s appearance at the TRC 22 years ago to do whatever I could that would reveal the truth; that Uncle Timol did not take his own life, but was murdered.”
But Cajee’s sense of relief is tinged with understandable anger. “I felt tremendous anger as visions of Uncle Ahmed’s torture and final moments flooded my mind.
“How young he was, how slight of build, how one who was so loved at home could be so brutally and contemptuously killed.”
The irony that Roderiques handed himself over to the police at the same police station where Timol is alleged to have been killed is not lost on Cajee. “Then he appeared in the same court where the original apartheid inquest into Uncle Ahmed’s death was held – the same court where the magistrate found Mr Roderiques to be a wholly credible witness and called my late grandmother a liar.”
The magistrate at that time said that to consider any cause of death other than suicide was preposterous. Yet the reopened inquest last year had shown that it was Roderiques who had lied.
Cajee charged that the retired special branch policeman did not appear to show any signs of remorse when he appeared in court last week. “He was full of smiles in front of the cameras.”
Although probing the Ahmed Timol case has been Cajee’s personal mission for many years, he is also passionately concerned about the roles played by other apartheid-era police officers, who he believes should be charged and prosecuted for the murder of other political activists.
“Uncle Ahmed’s murder was one of many perpetrated by the police, for which nobody has taken responsibility or been held accountable.”
In recent months, several families of anti-apartheid politicians and activists who died under mysterious circumstances have sought help from a network of NGOs and professionals co-ordinated by the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR).
Families who have been in contact with the network include those of Neil Aggett, Hoosen Haffejee, Baba Saloojee, Nicodemus Kgoathe, Solomon Madipane, Jacob Monnokgotla, Ashley Kriel, Imam Haron, Fort Calata, Dulcie September and former ANC president, Chief Albert Luthuli.
Cajee says these families are not driven by a sense of vengeance nor are they deviating from the path of restorative justice that the country had embarked on in Nelson Mandela’s presidency.
“Rather, they are saying the restorative justice process must be completed. That includes bringing to justice those who thumbed their noses at the TRC, which offered them amnesty in exchange for their taking accountability and telling the truth.”
That more apartheid-era crimes were being probed was confirmed this week by the NPA’s Gauteng spokesperson, Phindi Mjonondwane, who said there’s a possibility of more arrests in other matters in which activists were subjected to atrocities and brutalised.
“We also wish to congratulate the family of Timol for persistently knocking on every door to ensure that this day was realised,” she said.