Ahmed #Timol (1941 – 1971)|#Muslim Portraits: The #Anti-Apartheid Struggle

Ahmed Timol (1941 – 1971)| #Muslim Portraits: The #Anti-Apartheid Struggle Goolam Vahed |Madiba Publishers 2012|Compiled for SAMNET

“I had noticed that my son had been assaulted and was full
of blood and that the whole face was covered in blood… They
hit him very badly. They ripped off all his nails and the coffin
was also filled with blood” – mother Hawa Timol.

Despite what Hawa Timol saw, magistrate JJL De Villiers,
who carried out the inquest, attributed Ahmed Timol’s death to suicide:

‘He [Timol] had been familiar with instructions given by the party to its
members, these instructions included to commit suicide rather than betray
the Communist Party.’ Ahmed Timol came from a politicised family.

His father, Haji Timol, had been part of the Dadoo generation, political
activists who took on a more radical bent and transformed their tactics from
negotiation with the state to passive resistance and protest. Ahmed Timol’s
brother Mohammed testified before the TRC that his brother grew up in a
‘very religious orthodox family of the Islamic faith. He grew up at a time
when there was intense oppression in South Africa, and as a young Indian
Muslim he too became affected by what was happening in this country,
the injustices committed against the vast majority of the people of South
Africa, those who were not White.’

Timol qualified as a teacher but had a deep interest in radical politics and
attended the Lenin School in Moscow where he was accompanied by former
president Thabo Mbeki, who recalled: ‘Ahmed Timol was my comrade….
He and I went to receive political training in Moscow in the Sixties. We had
the same teachers in the same institution. We ate the same food. We made
the same friends, acquaintances and contacts. We shivered alike in that cold
foreign place and were warmed by the same revolutionary yearnings….
Ahmed was a Muslim but never sectarian: he sought national unity across
the class, caste and religious divides of his own community…. He was
communist without ever abandoning his religious piety.’


‘His revolutionary discipline never overtook his joy in simple things.
Ahmed was, apart from all of this, a great Africanist in the most profound
sense…. Just as Dr Dadoo lifted the gaze of his community to behold its
African realities, so too did Ahmed Timol expand upon and enact, in his
own flesh and with his own blood, the great lengths to which the Indian
community would go to assert and claim its proper birthright in this place.
The apartheid regime performed upon his body a macabre dance, a danse
macabre, of exorcism through violence. It was their own neurosis that spoke
through every blow, because in him our revolutionary spirit was made flesh
and they simply could not believe it. He was and remained, even after his
death, the spectre that was haunting South Africa.When Timol returned to
South Africa, he engaged in underground struggle as the major political
organisations had been banned.’

Timol was arrested on 22 October 1971 and taken for interrogation to John
Vorster Square. Five days later, 32 year old Timol died in custody, his
body displaying signs of torture. The police alleged that he had committed
suicide by jumping from the tenth floor of the building. He was the 22nd
person to die in police custody since the introduction of detention without
trial in 1963.

Hawa Timol described to the TRC how she heard of her son’s
death: ‘On Wednesday 27th my husband and son had gone to the mosque
for evening prayers. During this time three policemen came and entered
our house. One of them pushed me into a seat and then proceeded to tell
me that my son had tried to escape by jumping out of the tenth floor of
John Vorster Square and that I was to tell my husband that his body was
lying in the Hillbrow government mortuary. I could not believe what was
being said and in my confusion, I tried to argue that this was not true. I
even remember taking them to the flat windows and saying look how could
my son have jumped out of the difficult windows at John Vorster Square?

I was crying and screaming and our neighbour came to enquire what was
happening. The policeman without further explanation left.’
After Timol’s arrest, his family was harassed by the Security Branch who
repeatedly came to their home to interrogate his parents and search the
house. Police officers named at Timol’s inquest included Colonel Greyling,
Captain Bean, Sergeant Rodrigues, Warrant Officer Cloete, Sergeant F.J.

Ahmed Timol

Yusuf Timol grieving at the funeral of his son

Ahmed Timol’s funeral procession

Ferreira, Sergeant M.C. Pelser and Sergeant D.L. Carter. At the end of an
eight-month inquest, magistrate de Villiers ruled that Ahmed Timol had
died ‘from serious brain injuries and loss of blood when he jumped from
a window from the tenth floor of John Vorster Square. The cause of death
is suicide and nobody is to blame.’ The three people with whom Timol
was arrested under the Terrorism Act, Kantilal Naik, Amina Desai, and
Salim Essop, reported that they were severely tortured. Essop was so
badly assaulted that he was hospitalised. Naik, who was arrested the day
after Timol, was suspended from a beam by his arms, causing temporary

He told the TRC:
‘Myself and Timol were both teachers at the Roodepoort Indian High
School. On the morning of the 23rd, it was a Saturday morning, security
policemen came to my home and said that I should take them to school
as they wanted to seize the typewriter. I was then taken to John Vorster
Square. I made a statement and some of the security policemen said I was
talking rubbish. They started to question me. They were not satisfied with
my answers and two burly policemen were assaulting me. It was like a
seesaw. The one punched me and I fell on to the other guy, and the other
guy then of course punched me and you know, it was a seesaw thing.’

The TRC concluded: ‘The commission finds that the SAP and in particular
Colonel Greyling, Captain Bean, Sergeant Rodrigues, Warrant Officer
Cloete, Sergeants FJ Ferreira, MC Pelser, and DL Carter were directly
responsible for the death of Mr Ahmed Timol. The commission finds
further that the inquest magistrate’s failure to hold the police responsible
for Ahmed Timol’s death contributed to a culture of impunity and that led
to further gross human rights violations.’

Sources: Imtiaz Cajee, Timol. A Quest for Justice. Johannesburg: STE Publishers, 2005;
Hawa Timol, Testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.



Yusuf Akhalwaya and Prakash Napier formed a guerrilla cell in Lenasia. Between
1987 and 1989, they conducted 35 operations as the Ahmed Timol Unit. They were on
their way to conduct an operation in December 1989 when their bomb went off and
both were killed. ‘Ismail’ wrote on a website commemorating them: ‘My memories
of them flash by like a jagged series of blurry movie clips that only I can see. They
died so young and had so much more to offer. History may forget or even marginalise
their contribution but they will live with those who knew them.’



This video by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) shows Hawa Timol, mother of Ahmed Timol delivering her testimony on Ahmed Timol during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings on human rights violations on 30 April 1996. This video is included in “Between Life and Death: Stories from John Vorster Square” – a DVD produced as part of this project. Included in SAHA online exhibition – ‘Between Life and Death: Stories from John Vorster Square

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