30 January 2015

New documentary commemorates the life and death of Ahmed Timol

'Indians can't fly', documentary on Ahmed TimolIndians Can’t Fly is a new documentary on Ahmed Timol which tells the story of the anti-apartheid activist who plunged to his untimely death at the age of 29 from the notorious 10th floor of John Vorster Square police station in October 1971, presumably at the hands of the security police.

Narrated by Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee and directed by Enver Samuel the documentary also traces Timol’s upbringing from Breyten, Mpumalanga to Roodepoort and includes interviews with his comrades, former teachers and students, Security Branch policemen as well as with Advocate George Bizos, who represented the Timol family at the inquest into his death in 1972.

The inquest findings concluded that Timol committed suicide. It is widely believed that he may have been pushed, or tortured to death and then thrown from the window. No-one has been held accountable for his death. Timol’s family have spent the past 44 years searching for answers around his mysterious death and this documentary is the latest contribution in their ongoing quest for the truth and one that Cajee believes is “an important milestone in preserving Timol’s legacy”.

It has been the family’s mission to keep Timol’s memory alive. Cajee has played a pivotal role in this mission, having written Timol - Quest for Justice in 2005 with the second edition due for publication in October 2016 to mark the 45th anniversary of Timol’s death. Cajee was instrumental in the launch of a dedicated Ahmed Timol website “to keep memories of his contribution to the anti-apartheid movement alive, and to provide a platform for the further exploration of the unsolved case.”Between life and death educators guide cover

Imtiaz Cajee also contributed the Timol story to an interactive DVD Between life and death: stories from John Vorster Square, commissioned by the South African History Archive (SAHA) as part of the Sunday Times Heritage Project (STHP) and produced by Doxa in 2007. The story is also included in an educators' guide which is based on the DVD, while contents of the DVD are also featured in an online exhibition 'Detention without trial in John Vorster Square' on the Google Cultural Institute website. The materials produced and collected for the purpose of the DVD, such as interviews, photographs, press clippings and other archival material have all been archived as part of the STHP collection (AL3282) at SAHA. Enver Samuel consulted this collection as well as the extensive SAHA Poster collection (AL2446) for posters on political detainees during his research for the documentary.

Ahmed Timol with his mother Hawa Timol. Courtesy of Imtiaz Cajee. Archived as SAHA collection AL3282_D7.3.1.1

Also accessible via the STHP online inventory on the SAHA website is the heart-wrenching testimony of Timol’s mother to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996. This moving testimony struck a  particular chord with documentary director Enver Samuel, as he recalls, “There was Mrs Hawa Timol, an elderly lady and ever-grieving mother, relating in her home language, Gujarati, the painful loss of her son. It was an extraordinarily emotional moment, even in the context of the general environment of emotion that characterised the TRC.”

Not to be missed, the 48-minute television documentary premieres on SABC3 on 1 February 2015 at 19H30. 


Watch the trailer of Indians Can't Fly


Visit the Ahmed Timol website

See inventory for the Sunday Times Heritage Project (STHP) collection (AL3282)

Visit the Sunday Times Heritage Project (STHP) page

Visit the Between life and death: stories from John  Vorster Square DVD page

Download a copy of educators' guide

Visit the online exhibition on the Google Cultural Institute website