source: The South African
published: 17 October 2017
The recent, reopened inquest into the death of teacher and anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Timol, was different in many ways from a traditional court case. Instead of the standard adversarial criminal trial, which is associated with an acrimonious standoff between opposing parties, the state and the representative of the Timol family, Advocate Howard Varney, seemed to agree on the importance of arriving at the truth about Timol’s death.
Timol was 29 when he was arrested on 22 October 1971. After being interrogated and tortured by the feared security branch of the police, he died on 27 October 1971. Magistrate JL de Villiers, who presided over the inquest that followed his death, found that Timol had committed suicide.
The reopened inquest in the North Gauteng High Court nearly 50 years later was intensely symbolic. The atmosphere in the court was heavy with history. At times the testimony of witnesses reminded one of funeral-like memorialisation.
It was clear that the case was not only about Timol’s death but about the dozens of victims who died at John Vorster Square, the notorious Johannesburg security branch headquarters, and more broadly, the countless victims of apartheid crimes.