Our partners at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) have this week been involved in the historic reopening of the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol. Four days after his arrest, Timol died after allegedly jumping off the 10th floor of the John Voster Square (now the Johannesburg Central Police Station). Whilst a 1972 court ruling concluded suicide, it has taken forty-six years for a re-inquest, spearheaded by the International Centre for Transitional Justice adviser Howard Varney and with assistance from the Legal Resources Centre, to conclude that Timol was in fact tortured and murdered by now-deceased members of the apartheid Security Police forces.
The ruling has sparked an outpouring of analysis from national media sources and calls for 72 other deaths occurring under apartheid detention by Security Police to be investigated. Indeed a Twitter poll conducted by the South African Broadcasting Corporation Newsroom saw 82% of respondents in favour of a formal inquiry into the abuses of the Security Police, with South African Police Minister Mbalula Fikile supporting suggestions that the Johannesburg Central Police Station be re-named in memory of Ahmed Timol and to serve as a reminder of the injustices of the Apartheid police forces. The Mail & Guardian reported that extensive cover-ups of horrific torture and abuse perpetrated by the Security Police were undertaken by so-called ‘resident sweepers’ to ensure that such crimes were never brought to public attention. Further inquests include that of the former member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, Nokuthula Simelane, whose remains are yet to be found following her capture and killing by Security Police forces.
Whilst re-trials such as the Timol case are to be commended and serve as an important reminder of the injustices of the Apartheid era, Canon Collins Trust’s other legal partner, Wits Justice Project, have highlighted concerning evidence that suggests such police malpractice and brutality did not disappear upon transition to democracy in 1994. Investigative Journalist Ruth Hopkins has drawn attention to numerous cases of torture by police and security forces in the years following the end of apartheid, indicating disturbing continuities of abuse in the South African criminal justice system.