Today, 26 June 2017, Khulumani Support Group joins the global community in marking International Day in Support of Victims of Torture by having torture survivors from five Gauteng townships attend the opening day of the judicial inquest into the death in detention of Mr Ahmed Timol, a political detainee who died at the hands of the apartheid security police on the 10th Floor of John Vorster Square, the notorious police cells at present-day Johannesburg Central Police Station.
Ahmed Timol was a highly-respected teacher at Roodepoort Indian High School. After visiting Mecca in December 1966 to perform the Hajj, he moved to London where he met up with activist friends in exile and was sent for political training for 9 months in the then Soviet Union with former President Thabo Mbeki. He was active in the underground on his return to Johannesburg and was arrested along with his colleague, medical doctor Dr Saleem Essop on 22 October 1971 and detained at John Vorster Square. He died five days later on 27 October 1971 in what the police called a suicide. The magistrate who presided over the inquest at the time declared “no-one was to blame”, despite evidence of severe torture on Timol’s body.
Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment remains a non-derogable right of every person. What distinguishes torture from other crimes is that torture can only be committed by or with the help of a public official. The South African government has an obligation to prevent torture, to prosecute torturers, to compensate survivors and to support their rehabilitation under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), a convention that the South African government signed on 29 January 1993 and subsequently ratified on 10 December 1998 on International Human Rights Day in the year that the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was released.
A welcome development in the African region has been the adoption in March 2017 at the 21st Extra-Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of General Comment 4 on the Right to Redress for Victims of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that imposes an obligation on the state to provide prompt, full, and effective redress; to ensure rehabilitation; to protect against intimidation and reprisals; and to provide redress for collective harms. Torture is a very serious crime and has severe and usually lifelong harmful physical and psychological effects.
In South Africa, the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Act 13 of 2013 was signed into law after ten long years of advocacy for legislation that would criminalise torture and would ensure the prosecution of torturers. South Africa’s legislation has been judged inadequate because it imposes a prescription of twenty years on victims for bringing torturers to court.
This case is a quest for justice and for truth discovery 46 years later. May truth finally prevail for the Timol family and for all survivors of torture in South Africa who have yet to receive justice and redress.
Issued by Khulumani Support Group.
- Dr Marjorie Jobson, National Director, Khulumani Support Group, 082 268 0223
- Mr Imtiaz Cajee, Nephew of Ahmed Timol and author of TImol: A Quest for Justice.