Timol testimony: 'We have bad news, your brother is dead'
Johannesburg – The younger brother of anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Timol, Mohammad, on Thursday shared the painful memory of how apartheid security police denied him a chance to lay his brother to rest.
“Mohammad, we have bad news, your brother is dead,” this is how the apartheid security police broke the news to him that the anti-apartheid activist had died.
And when Mohammad, who was in detention, asked the police if he could attend the funeral, the police simply said, “It will not be possible”.
Mohammad would spend the night of Wednesday 27, 1971, pondering over whether his brother had really died or whether the police were playing a sick joke on him.
These were some of the memories that Mohammad shared with the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday when he took the stand at his brother's inquest.
The inquest was reopened after the family found new evidence that proved that Timol did not commit suicide, but instead died in police custody in 1971.
Mohammad told the court that his brush with the law was in 1966 when he and his school friends were arrested for taking down a pole which was going to be used to hoist the South African flag.
They were arrested by the security police and charged under the Separation of Communism Act.
They received a suspended sentence - one month suspended for 10 years for pleading guilty
Mohammad said his brother was close friends with the Pahad brothers, Essop and Aziz, and they were the ones who welcomed a 25-year-old Timol in the UK in 1967.
Mohammad joined his brother in the UK in September 1967.
In April 1969, Timol told his brother that he was going to study further in the Soviet Union.
Timol made Mohammad swear not to tell anyone where he had gone, not even family members.
“The fact that he went to the Soviet Union and I knew that they were the enemy of the apartheid regime, I was also aware that it was a close ally of the ANC… I had an inkling that Ahmed would be returning to South Africa to participate in underground work.”
Timol returned from the Soviet Union in 1969 and then went to South Africa on February, 20, 1970.
Mohammad returned to South Africa the following year.
With the help of Essop Pahad and Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Mohammad underwent underground training, learning politics, secret writing and bomb making, among other skills.
It was agreed that he would get a job in Durban upon his return.
On October 17, 1971, Timol came home to Roodepoort and told Mohammad that they were under surveillance and they needed to go to Durban.
The following day, October 18, Timol gave Mohammad money to travel to Durban.
“That was the last time I saw Ahmed.”
While in Durban, on October 25, he was rudely woken up by between six or eight security policemen surrounding his bed.
He was taken to and from the Fischer Street and Berea police stations where he was continuously tortured and interrogated for several weeks.
On Wednesday October 27, again he was taken to Fischer Street but there was something strange in the policemen’s behaviour.
“At around 18:00, there was complete silence. They offered me coffee and something to eat, something that they had never done. I said yes. Later on I was taken back to the cell. I could not understand the sudden change in their behaviour.
“At around 18:00, two policemen came to the cell, they said, ‘Mohammad, we have bad news for you, your brother is dead.’ I asked how he died. They said, ‘We don’t have information, we are still waiting for information from Pretoria'.
“I asked if I could attend the funeral and they told me it would not be possible and they left.”
That night, Mohammed spent time wondering whether to believe the security police or not.
“I spent the entire night debating whether it was true that Ahmed was arrested, if he was arrested, is he now dead or are they playing games with me.”
Deaths in detention
On Friday morning while driving to Fischer Street, he saw a board with the words, “Death plunge, Vorster speaks”.
He immediately thought about deaths in detention where people fell from the seventh floor in the offices of the security police in Johannesburg. At the time, it was said people committed suicide.
“When we arrive at the security police offices, one of the police officers expressed his condolences. I did not know whether to accept it, it was very difficult.”
Eventually a statement was prepared and he was forced to sign it.
On December 1, he was informed that he was being taken home.
He was taken to John Vorster Square. Head of the security branch, Colonel Greyling gave an instruction that he must be taken to the cells.
He was eventually released but before he could go home he had to answer to the CID for further questioning.
The CID asked him if Timol was suicidal or if he had mental problems and then took me home.
He spent a total of 141 days in detention.
Mohammad said he and his family had never accepted the ruling made in the 1972 inquest that Timol committed suicide.
Difficult to reintegrate
“Ahmed loved life and there was no way that he could have taken his own life, he was also not a violent man. He died a week before his 30 th birthday, he had his whole life ahead of him.
“He could have chosen to stay in England but he chose to come back to South Africa at the height of apartheid because he had a calling,” he said.
Earlier the court heard the testimony of retired Professor Kantilal Naik who told the court that he was arrested because of his association with Timol.
Naik told Mothle that after his release it was difficult to reintegrate back into his community.
“Some thought that I was responsible for Ahmed’s death.”
He said some community members thought that he was a spy that assisted the police with information.
“It is not true, the truth eventually came out that it was the security police. Timol was my friend.”
He said it was difficult to tell who was for and against him in the community.
Mothle asked Naik if he wanted to clear his name and he said he had told the truth.
Naik thanked the inquest from the bottom of his heart for listening to his version of events.
Mothle thanked both Mohammad and Naik for testifying.
The inquest is expected to be heard from June 26 and June 30, and will then resume between July 24 and August 4, and August 10 and 11.