The credibility of the judiciary which ruled the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol as suicide was cast with doubt during the inquest into his death at the South Gauteng High Court on Wednesday.
Human rights lawyer George Bizos took the stand and testified that lawyers, police and doctors lied under oath about Timol’s cause of death.
Magistrate JL de Villiers ruled during an inquest in 1972 that Timol committed suicide by jumping out of the 10th floor of the infamous John Vorster Square, currently known as the Johannesburg Central police station.
According to Bizos, Timol had injuries which he sustained while in custody, two doctors also supported the medical findings but the judge dismissed their reports and supported that of the state pathologist which claimed that Timol had injuries before he was in detention.
“DR Koch was the police’s favourite, he didn't see no evil,” Bizos said softly.
He said the judge supported claims by police officers that Timol was treated with compassion, and that no one was responsible for his death.
Bizos said the police were the law unto themselves and they were also responsible for appointing judges of their choice to to cases.
“People criticised you for appointing judges who pursued justice…Those who spoke the truth would pay the price for it, they would not be liked by their friends, they would not get promotion.”
While still on the witness stand, Timol’s family lawyer Howard Varnie extracted some information from Bizo’s book ‘No One to Blame: Pursuit of Justice in South Africa’ to refresh his memory about the events which unfolded during Timol’s death.
In the book, there’s an article from the Rapport where the investigating officer told the newspaper that Timol was sitting calmly in a chair and suddenly jumped out of the window.
Varnie asked Bizos if he believed this was true.
“It was obvious that it was a lie, the press was interested…The investigating officer, in his eyes, was doing his country a favour so that they should not be accused of killing detainees.”
Timol, a teacher and member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) died, allegedly at the hands of security police after he was arrested with DR Salim Essop in 1971 when a car they were travelling in was stopped by apartheid police. Banned SACP and African National Congress literature was found in the car.
Timol’s family believes that he was killed by apartheid police and was never suicidal.
After a private investigation launched by the Timol family and human rights activists, the evidence uncovered was presented to the National Prosecuting Authority which reopened the case.
Bizos concluded his testimony by telling the court that 69 people died similar deaths at the hands of police.
“Justice was defeated. A judge exonerated police officers for any wrong doing… None – white people were treated terribly, the facts are there,” he said.
“History is important, there are those that say let bygones be bygones and do not know the hurt that was caused.”
The inquest is expected to continue with more witnesses on Thursday.