Day five of the first sitting into the reopening of the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol saw Dr Dilshad Jhetam take to the witness stand.
Jhetam is an accomplished physician and cardiologist. She was the first Muslim physician in the then Transvaal, and the first female cardiologist in the country, yet back in 1971 under the strict law of apartheid, she was arrested and held in detention at John Vorster Square. It was there that she underwent humiliating acts of torture and abuse.
At the time of her arrest and subsequent detention, Jhetam was a medical student who had an unwavering commitment to fulfil her dream of becoming a medical doctor.
Jhetam was accused by the security police of being involved in underground political activities alongside Timol and Saleem Essop. She vehemently denied this.
Jhetam lived in the same Roodepoort area as Essop and Timol, and merely interacted with them on a social basis.
While she was being detained, she experienced torture and abuse at the hands of the interrogating officers.
“I needed to relieve myself and I asked to go the bathroom and they wouldn’t let me. I still feel the pain and the humiliation. Here I was, a decently brought up young lady and this happened to me. It was humiliating. They thought this was a huge joke. They mocked at me and laughed at me. They used my humiliation against me as a ploy.
“They brought water in a jug and a glass tumbler. I was standing in a puddle of my own urine. Somewhere along the line they brought a bucket because they said I was messing the floor too much. I was then standing in a bucket of my own urine,” she said.
Afterwards she was subjected to electrocution as a method of torture.
Still, she refused to give in to the constant threats by the interrogation officers. They called her “parmantig”, the Afrikaans word for “cheeky”.
Throughout her ordeal, Jhetam was accused of having political ties with Timol and Essop, and the officers referred to them as her “boyfriends”.
A few days later she heard screams. She was 99% sure it was Timol’s voice. He was being held in the office next to hers.
“Then one day his screams suddenly stopped, and I thought, you poor devil.”
Jhetan’s testimony could play a pivotal role in determining when Timol’s cries were silenced, in order to ascertain the approximate time of his death. Apartheid magistrate JL de Villiers ruled that his death was a suicide.
Jhetan was being held on the 10th floor during her interrogation, the same floor on which she heard his screams and from where he was alleged to have jumped to his death.
As the final witness into the first sitting of the reopening of the case this week, Jhetan said that after 45 years, she decided to come forward with her personal accounts, because she felt strongly that “there should never be extra-judicial killings in any country whatsoever, all in the name in trying to keep certain people in power”.
“Ahmed Timol is not here. He has paid with his life. I honestly hope and pray that this country of ours never reverts to such barbarous means or methods to suppress [the] opposition, in any form whatsoever, now or in the future,” were Jhetan’s final comments.
The inquest will resume on July 24 at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, where three subpoenaed officers who are alleged to have been involved in Timol’s arrest and detention are expected to testify.