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Ahmed Timol inquest papers made public forty-four years after his death

Forty-four years after the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, the inquest papers have been made public. These documents were handed over to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation by Mia Ahmed Loonat, one of the lawyers representing the family at the time. The documents have since been digitised by Wits Historical Papers Research Archive and made available online.

Timol, a teacher and a member of the South African Communist Party, was arrested at a roadblock in 1972 and taken to John Voster Square police station. Police claimed he committed suicide while in custody, but medical records showed he was severely tortured. The family says the inquest ignored this evidence and hope that the release of the documents will enable them to find the truth. The SABC News website quotes Timol’s brother Mohammad as saying, “We are working with the foundation for human rights to reopen the inquest and to reverse the findings of the inquest magistrate as we know that those that they claimed had committed suicide or slipped on a bar of soap, we all know were all brutally killed therefore we need to reopen the inquest and in a democratic South Africa set a precedent that those judgments have got to be reversed.”

Are South African archives to support similar struggles for justice doing enough? Michele Pickover of the Wits University Historical Papers Research Archive, quoted on the SABC News website, argues that the post-apartheid state has not prioritised the recording of the archives that document the past regime’s human rights violations, with intelligence and security documents kept a secret. Even now she says little is being done to open up these archives.

Should documents of this nature be freely available in the public domain? In an interview with
” title=“New Age”>New Age, Gabriele Mohale of the Wits Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits, articulated the dilemma faced by archivists dealing with sensitive material succinctly saying, “The challenge for us was that these are very personal and private records dealing with a person’s body and how he died.” Mohammed Timol, arguing for that the documents should be broadly accessible said, “I believe the decision that was taken to make the hundreds of pages of the inquest records [available] is important for the public particularly historians and law student[s]. It is specifically important for them to know how the inquest was conducted during apartheid especially when it comes to activists in detention.”

For more information on Ahmed Timol see the South African History Online website
For more information on the work of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, see their website
For more information on the work of the Historical Papers Research Archive, see their website.

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