News / South Africa

Ilse de Lange
3 minute read
25 Jul 2017
3:32 pm

Timol injured before he fell, court hears

Ilse de Lange

Timol was one of 73 detainees who died under police custody between 1963 and 1990.

Apartheid activist Ahmed Timol who died while in detention 45 years ago. Picture: Facebook

Ahmed Timol, the young teacher and SACP member who died in police custody 46 years ago, had significant old bruises on his body and eye socket fractures that may have been sustained before he fell out of a tenth-floor window, a specialist surgeon has told the High Court in Pretoria.

Prof Ken Boffard, emeritus professor at the University of Witwatersrand who specialises in the field of trauma surgery, on Tuesday testified in an inquest into Timol’s death at the security police’s headquarters in Johannesburg in October 1971.

A magistrate ruled at an inquest in 1972 that Timol had committed suicide by jumping out of a tenth-floor window of the infamous John Vorster square. The state agreed to reopen the inquest after an investigation by Timol’s family uncovered new evidence.

Timol was one of 73 detainees who died under police custody between 1963 and 1990. Police and apartheid-era inquest magistrates routinely described the deaths as suicides or accidents. None of the police have ever been held accountable.

According to police statements, Timol was still alive after he fell, but was then put in a blanket and carried to the foyer of the building, by which time he no longer had a pulse.

He was then taken to the ninth floor of the building, where a district surgeon declared him dead.

Prof Boffard testified that although most ambulance staff were mere drivers with some first-aid training and ambulances only had rudimentary equipment at the time, the recommendation was not to move a critically injured patient, but to roll the patient on his side and open the airways so as to not exacerbate the injuries.

Timol had a fracture to the base of his skull, widespread brain bleeding, fractures of the nasal bones and the bones underneath the eyes, fractures of his upper jaw, elbow and upper leg, internal bleeding and numerous old bruises.

Prof Boffard said given Timol’s injuries, which would not all have been visible, he was surprised the police would have moved him almost immediately because the ambulance services could have been there reasonably quickly.

He did not believe that anything could have prevented Timol from dying, but moving him would have hastened his death, he added.

He said he did not believe that all of Timol’s injuries had been caused by the fall and that some of his bruises and facial fractures were pre-fall injuries.

Veteran politician and former member of parliament Dr Essop Pahad, who was a childhood friend and close confidant of Timol while they were working for the SACP in London, testified that Timol would never have committed suicide.

He said he had discussed possible capture and torture with Timol before he returned to South Africa, but the possibility of suicide was never mentioned, nor was it part of SACP or ANC policy.

Pahad had told Timol it was not treasonous to break under torture, but advised him to hold on for as long as he could and to try to give information gradually and not fully to give his comrades time to realise he had been caught and either leave the country or go into hiding.

He was also advised that if he broke, he might agree to testify, but should then refuse to testify when he came to court.

He said Timol was ready to go to prison and was not scared of going.

In addition, he was a devout Muslim who could, under Islamic teaching, not commit suicide, and he also had a girlfriend waiting for him back in London, and it just did not seem possible that he would have committed suicide.

The state has subpoenaed seven former members of the security police, who are expected to testify in the inquest next week.