Mind Your Language: Timol's inquest left in stitches

03 August 2017 - 16:41
By Sipho Mabena
Ahmed Timol died in detention in 1971, with the inquest concluding that he committed suicide. File photo
Image: Sunday Times Extra Ahmed Timol died in detention in 1971, with the inquest concluding that he committed suicide. File photo

The public gallery of the Pretoria High Court room 2D‚ where the inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol is being held‚ was left in stitches by evidence of how apartheid police butchered the English language to fake the activist’s suicide.

Former minister Ronnie Kasrils elicited memories of the British sitcom Mind Your Language as he pinpointed grammatical errors in the SA Communist Party’s Inkululeko/Freedom 2 document‚ which he said police had “doctored” to cover up Timol’s murder.

South Africa
Discrepancy in Timol's time of death
5 years ago

The struggle stalwart said the original document‚ dated February 1972‚ was altered to include a paragraph that the party expected activists to commit suicide when captured.

But Kasrils demonstrated to the inquest that the notorious apartheid security branch did a “ludicrous…laughable” job with the alterations‚ with glaring grammatical errors.

The former intelligence minister said the key falsification was on the last page‚ titled Stand Firm.

It was Kasril’s testimony on the parts that read “rather commit suicide than to betray the organisation” and “remember our brave comrades who paid for their lives” that elicited giggles from the gallery.

“…this is not English. English…would be ‘rather than betray the organisation’… I am not a rather fluent Afrikaans linguist but it seems to me that this is how an Afrikaner might translate an English term‚” he testified.

He said proper English would read “who paid with their lives” and not “who paid for their lives”.

“Again‚ in my view‚ it would be someone in Afrikaans…translating to English‚” Kasrils said.

He said they would never make such mistakes as they needed the writing to be simple for people to read and in good English.

“Well this gets to the very point of their faking the suicide of (Timol). This is an attempt to provide the proof that the communists teach their people to commit suicide rather than face interrogation…‚” Kastrils said.

He added that these were the very words of the then chief of police at a media conference after Timol’s death.

Timol died on October 27 1971 while in police custody at John Vorster Square. An inquest held in 1972 found that he had committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of the 13-storey building. However‚ Timol’s family have refused to believe that he killed himself and asked for the inquest to be reopened because new information had come to light.

Two forensic pathologists have concluded that Timol was barely alive when he fell.