Death on the 10 th flooring: The look for reality in South Africa

John Vorster Square in main Johannesburg is a structure as effective and cold as the person it was called after: South Africa’s prime minister from 1966 to 1978.

Produced as a detention centre for primarily political detainees, the restricting grey-and-blue, 10- floor cement structure, now described as the Johannesburg Central Authorities Head office, was explained in 1971 as the “last word in security” by the liberal South African paper, the Rand Daily Mail.

In his book, Timol: An Objective for Justice, Imtiaz Cajee, nephew of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, made up of the “paranoia of its turnstiles securing together like metal teeth”.

To Cajee, whose uncle passed away at John Vorster Square, it was “the ultimate symbol of the bureaucratisation of fear and horror under apartheid”.

Former Minister of Health and of Public Enterprises Barbara Hogan, who – as the first South African female to be condemned of high treason – was collared there, explained it as an “renowned organization” that symbolised “the reign of the mad forces”.

The ninth and 10 th floor coverings of the structure were where the head office of the Security Branch lay. They may be accessed by 2 special lifts that ran directly from the basement to the head office.

The Security Branch offices consisted of unique soundproof areas.

The Johannesburg Central Authorities head office, previously referred to as John Vorster Square, was the website of the death of political activist and detainee Ahmed Timol [GULSHAN KHAN/AFP]

Detention without trial

John Vorster Square was among the architectural signs of apartheid. The authentic pillars of apartheid were the outrageous security legislation passed to daunt and segregate.

Amongst the most chilling laws passed throughout Vorster’s management was the Terrorism Act of 1967 which allowed the cops to collar permanently and in particular confinement anybody idea of “terrorism” – specified as anybody who may “threaten the upkeep of order” – or knowing about terrorism. No court may step in, and no one had access to the detainees.

According to George Bizos, a renowned human rights attorney who represented many homes of apartheid-era detainees, John Vorster’s name ended up being related to detention without trial. “The name John Vorster inspired worries amongst detainees,” stated Bizos.

Among the most typical techniques of abuse utilized in John Vorster Square was “standing abuse”, throughout which detainees were prevented from taking a seat or sleeping for many hours on end.

A minimum of 73 political activists are believed to have really died in South African cops detention in in between 1963 and 1990 – 8 of them throughout or as a result of their detention at John Vorster Square.

In spite of the work of the Reality and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in in between 1996 and 1999, the majority of these cases stayed shrouded in secrecy.

That was till inquests into the deaths started to be resumed in 2017, in big part thanks to the identified efforts of Imtiaz Cajee.

” Imtiaz has actually been waging a long project for fact and justice,” specified Howard Varney, attorney for the Timol family.

The extremely first inquest to be resumed was that of Ahmed Timol, the extremely first activist who died at John Vorster Square.

Ahmed Timol

Born in 1941, Ahmed Timol, who was of Indian heritage, was an instructor at Roodepoort Indian High School and a political activist. He was likewise an underground member of the then-banned South African Communist Party (SACP) and Umkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

Appealing and soft-spoken, Timol disrupted his mentor occupation in 1967 to travel abroad.

He invested 2 years in London with fellow South African exiles, prior to going to the Soviet Union in 1969 to go through training in Marxist-Leninist ideology at the International Lenin School. He followed that with 4 weeks of training in London prior to returning to South Africa in 1970.

According to Timol’s pal and fellow activist, retired scholastic Salim Essop, Timol’s see to the Soviet Union was”the highlight of his life” Essop remembers his pal as being “highly committed to the freedom cause and disciplined”.

Upon returning to South Africa, he established underground cells of the SACP and, together with Essop, distributed brochures about the ANC’s activities.

On the night of October 22, 1971, Timol and Essop were collared at an obstruction in Johannesburg. Prohibited literature was found in the back of their automobiles and truck.

Both were required to John Vorster Square. To the 10 th flooring. A couple of days later on on, Timol was dead.

Part of the cover-up

The authorities stated that Timol had actually committed suicide. In 1971, an official inquest into his death concluded the extremely exact same.

” The inquests held during apartheid became part of the cover-up,” explained Yasmin Sooka, the director of the NGO Structure for Individual Rights and among the previous TRC commissioners. “The magistrates at the time would typically discover a suicide.”

Policeman would later on on joke that “Indians can’t fly”.

On October 30, 1971, the Saturday Star paper reported from Timol’s funeral service at Roodepoort Muslim cemetery: “Impatient motorists leaned on their hooters as a seemingly endless stream of white-capped Indians held up traffic for more than a lots obstructs at a time in Roodepoort. Schoolgirls pressing handkerchiefs to their faces, T-shirted whites taking part in severe talk with immaculately dressed Muslims – they all formed part of the 1500 mourners following the hearse of Ahmed Timol.”

Plunged to his death

The second detainee to pass away in John Vorster Square was Wellington Tshazibane, found hanging in his cell on December 11,1976 He had actually been apprehended 4 days formerly for declared complicity in a surge at the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg.

A main inquest exonerated the cops of any misbehaviour.

Elmon Malele, collared in 1977, was made to stand for 6 hours while being questioned in the evening.

On February 15, 1977, detainee Matthews Mabelane plunged to his death from the 10 th floor covering. The cops stated that he had actually climbed up out onto a window ledge in an effort to leave and had really slipped and been up to hisdeath An inquest in April 1977 discovered the reason for death to be”unintentional” He was 23 years of ages.

Resumed inquests

Ahmed Timol’s inquest was resumed on June 26,2017 I participated in the treatments in the High Court in Johannesburg.

The environment in the jam-packed court felt heavy with history.

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A presentation by Kulumani Assistancesystemoutsidethe High Courtin Johannesburg throughoutthe inquest into Ahmed Timol’sdeath[Mia Swart/Al Jazeera]

The 2 main suspectsinthe case,. Security Branch officers Johannes Gloy and Johannes van Niekerk died prior tothe resumed inquest.

Joao Rodrigues, aformer police who was with Timol at aroundthe time of hisdeath, wasthe crucial witness.

Rodrigues, who was78in2017,. stated consistently that he might not keep in mind(******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************* )occasions of that day.

At the preliminary inquest, Rodrigues stated to have actually seen Timol leap out of a window, however specified he may not stop him due to the fact that he tripped over a chair.

In his new book, The Murder of Ahmed Timol: My Search For Truth, Cajee composed that a substantial quantity of proof associating with his uncle’s case has actually gone missing out on, consisting of a page of Rodrigues ‘sworn statement.

” An essential part of his version of what took place when Timol fell from the building has vanished,” Cajee described.

The court heard declaration from Essop, who described utilizing abuse, including electrical shock treatments, at John Vorster Square.

A retired scholastic who now lives in the UK, Essop notified Al Jazeera: ” The security police engaged in systematic torture. I was tortured in a vault at John Vorster Square by 15 various police officers to the point where I passed out.”

Essop is motivated that Timol was likewise tortured.

In his judgment, Judge Billy Mothle found that Timol was either pushed from the10 th floor covering or from the roofing system of the structure.

The judgment has really been viewed as a vindication of the efforts of Timol’s family and good friends to have the apartheid security force’s lies about his.
last days exposed.

The National Prosecuting Authority( NPA) is currently prosecuting Rodrigues for murder and beating conclusions of justice.


Joao Rodrigues in the High Court in Johannesburg,2017[Photo courtesy of:]


Going Over the significance of the resumed inquests, Varney, the attorney, gone over:”.
The bad guys had a chance to come forward to the TRC and disclose the truth and.
claim amnesty. They declined this offer. They should now handle justice.”

Neil Aggett


The second case to be resumed was that of Neil Aggett, the extremely first white activist who died in detention throughout apartheid. The inquest into his case started previously this year.

Born in Kenya in1953, Aggett’s family transferred to South Africa in1964 Aggett wound up being a medical doctor and trade union organiser. His internships in Mthatha General University Hospital and in Tembisa Health care center, which lay in bad “Black areas” of the Eastern Cape and the old Transvaal province, added to his social awareness. Aggett was convinced that the recovery of disease should be accompanied by improving the conditions in which Black South Africans lived.

Jill Hamburger, Aggett’s sis, informed Al Jazeera that his run in these medical centers affected his political views. “That, as a result of his experiences, he was willing to re-evaluate his concepts and worths was unique for somebody of his background,” she described.

Aggett was apprehended on November 27, 1981, apprehended under the Terrorism Act, and required to John Vorster Square, where he was regularly questioned and tortured by Unique Branch officers.

Seventy days later on, on February 5, 1982, he was found dead in his cell, having probably hung himself with a kikoi headscarf, a headscarf made from African product. He was 28.

At the resumed inquest, Aggett’s fellow anti-apartheid activist Keith Coleman described him as “ a person of exceptional stability, little ego and exceptionally devoted”.

< img alt =" Agget- feature" src ="" title =" Agget- function[CREDIT/CAPTION NEEDED]" >

When he passed awayin1982[Photo used with the permission of the Aggett family]


Neil Agget was28

Although a popular inquest(************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************* )1982 showedhow an80- hour interrogationinthe days prior to hisdeathadded to it,the security authorities were cleared of any misbehavior, and hisdeath was ruled a suicide.

The TRC’s last five-volume report, handed to then-president Nelson Mandela in 1998, found the apartheid state, its minister of authorities, its commissioner of cops and the head of the Security Branch liable for Aggett’s death.

At the resumed inquest, fellow anti-apartheid activist Jabu Ngwenya, who was imprisoned with Aggett at John Vorster Square, specified he believes Aggett’s body was moved to a cell to make it appear he had actually hung himself.” He had actually passed away on the 10 th floor,” stated Ngwenya.

The remaining hearings in the Aggett inquest have really been delayed up till June.

‘Insufficient business’

The Timol and Aggett cases reanimate much of the concerns raised throughout the TRC and can, perhaps, be understood as a method of finishing, in the words of previous TRC commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza, the TRC’s” unfinished business”


Amongst the features of the TRC that was both criticised and praised was that amnesty might be provided to those who absolutely exposed their actions. While the conditional amnesty design was admired as reconciliation-building and innovative, there was essential areas, many particularly the reality that those who were declined amnesty were never ever prosecuted. In the 2 years considered that the work of the TRC was concluded, there have really been just a handful of prosecutions.

” Undoubtedly, the failure to prosecute those who did not receive amnesty renders the amnesty procedure completely worthless,” Varney described. “It might as well have actually been a de facto blanket amnesty for all.”

Sooka believes that a person of the issues with the amnesty plan was that it was primarily the foot soldiers who looked for amnesty and not the political leaders and security force leaders who provided the orders. “Those who produced this scene …, by and large, the politicians, in a sense got away with it,” she specified.

Political disruption

So, why did it take so long for the NPA to resume the apartheid-era inquests? Imtiaz Cajee first got his uncle’s case to be resumed in 2003.

” They were asking me to do their work,” specified Cajee of the NPA. “The polices involved in my uncle’s matter lived, and they stopped working to interview them. It was humiliating that the NPA asked me to get additional information. It was what they were mandated to do.”

As Lukhanyo Calata, kid of killed activist Fort Calata who was among the “Cradock Four” eliminated in 1985, specified in an affidavit to the Commission of Query – or Zondo Commission – into state capture: “Had [Timol’s death] been examined, the main criminals would have been held to account, considered that the last suspect just passed away in2012 This totals up to a travesty of justice.”

In their efforts to get the inquests resumed, the Timol and Aggett homes stated they got no assistance from the state. They required to carry out examinations themselves and count on the support offered by pro bono legal agents, such as Howard Varney, who represents both households.

According to Motheba Mohapi, the child of eliminated activist Mapetla Mohapi, the resource ramifications of this might prevent homes from getting inquests to be resumed.

Some have actually argued that not simply has actually there been an absence of political will to prosecute criminals of apartheid criminal activities, however that there has really been active political disturbance, pressing the NPA not to.

” The TRC made adverse findings versus all the main function players, consisting of the ANC,” specified Varney. “The ANC did not desire these cases pursued to safeguard its own. In previous cops primary Jackie Selebi’s words – put to former Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli: ‘If you go after the apartheid generals, then you unlock to cases against us,’ which was not acceptable. So, to the ANC, the option was to stop all cases.”

Jessie Duarte, the deputy secretary-general of the ANC, notified Al Jazeera that she “strongly disagrees” with the recommendation that there was political disruption, consisting of that: “The ANC supports the resuming of the cases.”

Yasmin Sooka thinks the onus has really been on households to fight for cases to be resumed.

How does the NPA choose which cases to prioritise?

” Generally, the priority is provided to cases in which households are willing to pursue the matter and evidence is readily available – a high-end provided the amount of time that has actually lapsed,” stated Sooka.

Closure for homes

For many households of anti-apartheid activists killed by the security forces, the previous years have actually been shrouded in unpredictability. According to Cajee, the resuming of inquests “opened a door for many households. They now reside in hope again that the inquests of their enjoyed ones may be resumed.”

The case of Motheba Mohapi’s daddy, Mapetla Mohapi, has actually not yet been resumed.

Among the activists supporting the Black Awareness Motion, Mapetla worked thoroughly with Steve Biko and was likewise active in the South African Trainees Organisation. Mapetla was collared without charge on July 16,1976 Twenty days later on, he died in authorities custody.

The authorities specified he had actually hanged himself with a set of denims.

Motheba Mohapi was two-and-a-half years of ages when her daddy passed away.

In 2017, she and her family tried to check out the cell where he passed away.

She was lastly approved it in 2019, and explained the experience as both “psychological and happy”.

” There is a special connection when you attempt to envision the person because area,” she explained.

When she ended up being mindful of the resumed inquests, “the hope and desire opened that this may be possible for us too”.

The post- apartheid federal government offered The Order of Luthuli on Mapetla for his battle for a democratic SouthAfrica What is most essential to Mohapi is a public “recognition of the injustice and the suffering of the household and the correction of history”.

Thembi Nkadimeng, the mayor of Polokwane, desires the inquest into the 1983 disappearance of her brother or sister, anti-apartheid activist Nokuthla Simelane, resumed. “What my household desires is my sister’s remains,” specified Nkadimeng.

The death of activist Fort Calata was the subject of 2 inquests, in 1987 and1992 The extremely first discovered that”no one is to blame” At the 1992 inquest, the judge discovered the state to be accountable for the killing, nevertheless no one was called, and no prosecution followed.

His kid, Lukhanyo Calata, press reporter and author of the book, My Daddy Craved This, stated the family is not interested in another inquest. “What we want is for the ANC to create the society that my father gave his life for,” he stated.

In the meantime, numerous households simply have the main version of thetruth A poem, In Detention by Chris van Wyk, catches the absurdity of that:

He fell from the ninth floor covering
He hanged himself
He slipped on a piece of soap while cleaning
He hanged himself
He slipped on a piece of soap while cleansing
He fell from the ninth floor covering
He hanged himself while cleansing
He slipped from the ninth flooring
He hung from the ninth flooring
He slipped from the ninth flooring while cleaning
He fell from a piece of soap while slipping
He hung from the ninth flooring
He cleaned from the ninth flooring while slipping
He hung from a piece of soap while cleaning

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