On the night of 22 October 1971, Timol and Essop were stopped at a roadblock in Coronationville. The roadblock was manned by Leonard Gysbert Kleyn and Adam Alexander Cecil Thinnies, both members of the South African Police (SAP). After routine questions, the officers asked to search the boot. Here, pamphlets and documents relating to the banned SACP were found, and both Timol and Essop were taken to the Newlands Police Station for further questioning under the Terrorism Act 83 of 1962.
At the station, Kleyn notified Neville Els, a Captain Dirker, and a Colonel Greyling, all Security Branch officers, of the arrest. Timol was taken to the Security Branch office in John Vorster Square by Dirker, while Essop was taken to the same office by Greyling. At the Security Branch office, Essop and Timol were kept separated, and both men endured repeat interrogations and torture. Essop later testified to having seen a man looking very much like Timol being led past at one stage. The man was hooded and badly injured. This is the last time Essop believes he saw his friend.
Joao ‘Jan’ Anastacio Rodrigues, a Security Branch officer at the time, was the last known person to have seen Timol alive. According to Rodrigues, Timol was being held in a room with Johannes Zacharias Van Niekerk and Johannes Hendrik Gloy, when the two officers were called away. Rodrigues was ordered to accompany Timol to the bathroom in the meantime. Rodrigues stated that while he was moving a chair, Timol took the opportunity to jump out of the window of his own accord.
Timol died on 27 October 1971. An inquest held in 1972 found that he had committed suicide by jumping out of a window at the John Vorster Square station. During the proceedings, it was revealed that the Security Branch officers had created a joke, coined by the phrase ‘Indians can’t fly’ in response to Timol’s death. The phrase was later to be used as the title of a documentary film on Timol’s life.
Meanwhile, four days after their arrest, Essop was taken to a hospital in an unconscious state. Although Essop’s family managed to obtain an interim order restraining the security police from unlawfully interrogating and applying unlawful pressure on their son, Essop was transferred to Pretoria Central Prison, following his stay in the hospital. Here, he was subjected to further pharmacological torture. He was eventually convicted to five years in prison for his political activities, which he served in full on Robben Island. Once released, he served another three years of his banning order, before going into exile.
Since then, Essop has been a vocal proponent of prosecuting former Security Branch officers for their crimes during the apartheid era. Over the following decades, the Timol family, with the assistance of Essop, have sought to overturn the 1972 court’s findings, believing Timol to have been murdered while in police custody.