Source: Ministry of Safety and Security
Title: Nqakula: Launch of a book on Ahmed Timol
Speech by Safety and Security Minister, Honourable Charles Nqakula, MP, at the launch of a book on Ahmed Timol, at the Johannesburg Central Police Station, formerly John Vorster Square
29 January 2005
Acknowledgements and Protocol Observance
When I was asked to come to speak on this very special occasion, my mind scuttled back to 1971 when the death of this devout freedom fighter was top of the news. There were a lot of lies told as there was speculation. Even at the inquest hearing which told the usual story of suspicious findings on deaths in detention, one question remained unanswered and that was-how could our comrade have jumped through a window to his death in a building described by two leading newspapers at the time as having the ultimate in security.
The two newspapers were the Rand Daily Mail and the Sunday Express. The Mail reported on 29 October 1971, shortly before the completion of this building: “the last word in security.” The report continued: “It is believed that the grilles were introduced at the new building to prevent similar incidents to that on 9 September 1964, when a detainee, Mr Suliman Saloojee, was killed when he fell from the former security headquarters at The Grays in Johannesburg.”
The Sunday Express reported that the building contained a lecture theatre with tiered seats, cinema projector and sound equipment, large fully equipped photographic laboratories and a spacious fingerprint laboratory. It stated further: “the offices to be occupied by the Security Branch represent the last word in security.”
Then as now, the real questions around Comrade Ahmed’s death in detention, as were about the deaths of many others, remain unanswered.
But we have the benefit of hindsight through which we can say: the total onslaught theory was intended to ensure answers to those questions should never have been provided. There was an undeclared war against all those who saw injustices for what they were and did something about them.
And so as we gather here today to commemorate the life of a fallen hero, we have to rededicate ourselves to the cause of justice, peace and democracy, he and others died in pursuit of. It will not help to do that only in words. We have to live the ideals they lost their lives in search of.
The story of Ahmed Timol is the story of millions of freedom-loving South Africans. Others may not have died like him but they felt his pain in many ways, in factories, in homes, on farms, on the mines and in various pursuits of life under a system that sought to deny their humanity.
The story of his death perhaps depicted the divided country South Africa was in 1971. On 30 October, that year the Star reported that his funeral was a mere inconvenience to the whites in Roodepoort.
“Impatient motorists leaned on their hooters as a seemingly endless stream of white-capped Indians held up traffic for more than a dozen blocks at a time in Roodepoort. Schoolgirls pressing handkerchiefs to their faces, T-shirted whites engaged in serious talk with immaculately dressed Muslims - they all formed part of the 1 500 mourners following the hearse of Ahmed Timol”
What a striking statement in death made through the people. There was stark contrast between the grief of the mourners and the grief of those who resented the clogging of the road, some of the latter groups of grievers could have been avid supporters of the system that brought about his death. In a sense his death showed South Africans across the divide just what they were and how they felt about each other’s concerns. But more than that it galvanised a significant section of the communities in Roodepoort to show its anger.
Deaths in detention were not uncommon at this time but any such occurrence always had all those with a sense of justice filled with revulsion. In the case of Comrade Ahmed the anger reverberated throughout the world and served as a wake-up call to many not only to be aware of apartheid atrocities but to raise their voices against them.
Amnesty International called for an independent inquiry into the death. At the UN, India called on the General Assembly to deplore the deaths of Asians and others while in detention in South Africa and to declare those responsible “criminals”. In London the office of the ANC issued a statement saying: “The brave patriots who are challenging the fascist regime inside South Africa are in dire need of the support and protection of every self-respecting human being throughout the world. The external mission of the ANC therefore urgently calls on all its many supporters and sympathisers to urge their governments through their parliamentary representatives to support the United Nations call for:
* The immediate expulsion of South Africa from the United Nations Organisation and all its agencies; and
* The adoption of mandatory sanctions against South Africa until the scourge of apartheid and racial discrimination is wiped out in our country.
Furthermore, the statement continued, “We call on all those who detest the racist white regime in South Africa:”
* To contribute towards our fighting fund so that our underground machinery and our fighting forces could be maintained and strengthened;
* To get your organisations, trade unions, student unions, political parties, etc. to send messages to protest to the government of South Africa;
* To actively support our call to boycott and isolate South Africa in every field; and
* To demand the release of all political prisoners.
“We for our part pledge to avenge the death of Timol and all others who have been murdered in order to maintain white supremacy in our Motherland.
We shall not allow these murderers to get away with their crimes and shall redouble our efforts to prosecute our struggle inside South Africa. Vorster and his gang will be destroyed.”
Two days ago the South African Police Service celebrated the 10th anniversary of its establishment. The various speakers at the ceremony held at Pretoria(s Church Square traced, in different ways, the road the police have travelled in South Africa from a militaristic force serving as a bulwark for apartheid to today’s civilian police service that is subject to the strict monitoring and oversight demanded by our democratic practice.
Reference was made at the ceremony about the momentous frames that, over ten years, have characterised the new police service. Many of those episodes in the history of policing in Democratic South Africa have been extraordinary.
But, today’s function, at the former John Vorster Square, on the notorious 10th floor and the thoroughly infamous Interrogation Room, must be the most significant historical moment of policing in South Africa.
As we collectively try to define in our own mind what could have happened here those many hears ago, as we begin the imagine the torture he must have sustained, we say with one voice: His beliefs and those of other detainees like him who were tortured to death are today part of the value systems that characterise our united, democratic, non-racist, non-sexist South Africa.
Every member of the South African Police Service is subject to political guidance from former revolutionaries like Ahmed Timol committed to the democratic transformation of all the levels of governance in this country where, in the words of former President Nelson Mandela, “Never, never, never again shall one be oppressed by another in this country.”
Police operational work is under the command and control of a former detainee at this station, Comrade Jackie Selebi.
There are others in this room today who, like Comrade Jackie, were once detained here.
We have changed the station name from John Vorster Square to Johannesburg Central Police Station not because we wanted to obliterate the history of torture and human rights violations that happened here under apartheid. We changed it to show our abhorrence of the inhumane police system in place at the time.
Today’s book launch is a small but necessary step in the search for honest answers to the questions we have about how our comrade met his death.
Today’s function, hopefully, will be a small step towards closure for Ahmed Timol’s family, comrades and friends. But, the record of Comrade Ahmed Timol’s involvement in our struggle for freedom, democracy, justice, peace and thoroughgoing development, will never be expunged from our collective memory and the rich history of that struggle to liberate ourselves.
If you ask me: The pledge by the ANC “to avenge the death of Timol” was achieved in the most dramatic fashion with the democratic breakthrough in 1994.
Long live the spirit of Cde Ahmed Timol and the many comrades who paid with their lives to irrigate the seed of peace, stability and justice for which they struggled.
Issued by: Ministry of Safety and Security
29 January 2005