South Africa’s longest serving female Indian political prisoner
When her husband, Suliman Mohammed Desai, a Transvaal Indian Congress activist died in 1969, Amina Desai took over the running of his business.
Political activist, Ahmed Timol, who died at the hands of the Security Police in 1971, used her home at 12 Harold Street, Roodepoort, as an underground base. This was a second home to Timol, and in return for running errands, Desai would allow Timol use of her car.
Timol also worked with Hilmi, the Desai’s son, and printed leaflets in the Desai garage - an activity of which they were unaware. Desai and Timol were said to have spent hours discussing politics, and she suspected that her telephone was tapped as telephone technicians would frequently visit her home.
The Security Police arrested Timol at a roadblock and found Community literature in the car, which they traced back to Desai.
Following Timol’s arrest, on 23 October, 1971, at 3am, in the early hours of the morning, the Security Police raided Desai’s home. She was then taken to the notorious John Vorster Square prison in Johannesburg, where she was interrogated for the next four days.
One afternoon, she heard furniture being thrown about in the next room, followed by screams. It was the “most terrible moment of my life” she told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1996. Later, it emerged that Timol had fallen from the tenth floor window at John Vorster. The police claimed that Timol had jumped to his death.
Desai was kept in solitary confinement for several months after Timol’s death, and was sentenced to five years under the Terrorism Act for furthering the aims of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1972.
On the first day of her trial, she suggested to her lawyer that he contact Timol who would be able to shed light on the literature found in her car. It was only then that she learnt of Timol’s death.
After five years imprisonment at Barberton and Kroonstad Prisons, Desai was released from prison in 1978, then banned, and placed under house arrest for a further five years.
In 2004, she joined her family in Ireland.
Desai passed away in Dublin on 10 June 2009 at the age of 89.