Tim Jenkin

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Tim Jenkin
Tim Jenkin (2017).jpg
Tim Jenkin in 2017
Timothy Peter Jenkin

1948 (age 70–71)
ResidenceCape Town
Alma materUniversity of Cape Town
OccupationWriter, political and monetary activist
EmployerCommunity Exchange System (founder and director)[1]
Known forPrison escape

Timothy Peter Jenkin (born 1948) is a South African writer, former anti-apartheid activist and political prisoner. He is best known for his 1979 escape from Pretoria Local Prison (part of the Pretoria Central Prison complex), along with Stephen Lee and Alex Moumbaris.


Early life[edit]

Jenkin was born in Cape Town and educated at Rondebosch Boys' Prep and Boys' High School.

University and afterwards[edit]

Jenkin met Lee in a sociology class at the University of Cape Town (UCT). They soon became friends and both of them sought out the literature banned by the apartheid government, devouring, photocopying it and swapping it with other students. They both found their sociology course disappointing, as the material reinforced the status quo of the apartheid system.[2]

Upon graduating with his Bachelor of Social Science at the end of 1973,[3][4] the friends left the country in order to join the African National Congress (ANC) in London, with the intention of helping to bring about change in South Africa. While awaiting clearance for membership, Jenkin worked as a social worker at a reform school in Swindon. Upon return to Cape Town, he worked as a researcher for the Institute for Social Development at the University of the Western Cape, which was a university for people classified by the apartheid government as Coloured.[5]

Arrest and prison[edit]

Along with Lee, Jenkin was charged with "producing and distributing 18 different pamphlets on behalf of banned organisations" including the South African Communist Party, the ANC and its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, from 1975 to 1978. and urging people to join the liberation movement. The pamphlets were distributed by making use of a small explosive device and linked to a timer and detonator, designed by Jenkin, hidden inside a carrier bag and placed in crowded places. They had started just before the Soweto uprising in 1976 before being caught with their printing equipment.[6][7] He had also posted a sign on the seventh floor of a Cape Town building which said "The ANC lives". They were arrested, and upon poor legal advice, both pleaded guilty to all charges. They were both found guilty on one charge, with Jenkin receiving a 12-year sentence and Lee eight.[3]


Soon after their incarceration, Jenkin, Lee and several other inmates began plotting an escape, which would involve copies of several prison keys that Jenkin made from wood. Jenkin had smuggled some money into prison. The initial plan was that eight of the political prisoners would escape, leaving behind two who were nearing the end of their sentences. One of the intending escapees, Denis Goldberg, communicated with comrades in the ANC through coded letters sent to Baruch Hirson in London. Hirson then communicated with Joe Slovo in Mozambique, a date for the escape was set and an escape vehicle arranged.[8]

As the plan evolved it became clear that for the escape to be successful it would have to be restricted to three people, who would have to hide in a small closet at one point. The escape preparations brought some differences of opinion amongst the political prisoners, but they remained comrades and all contributed in some way to the escape effort. The fact that they were all in prison for their political activities and beliefs united them, and "as members of a revolutionary organisation [they] were disciplined and shared in [their] suffering collectively".[9] Goldberg and the others decided to withdraw from the escape, with Goldberg continuing to be involved in the preparations.[8]

In December 1979,[9] Jenkin, Lee and fellow inmate Alex Moumbaris[10][11] broke out of Pretoria Central Prison using handmade keys to nine of the doors leading out of the prison, after several hair-raising moments after encountering unforeseen obstacles.[12] Denis Goldberg, a fellow inmate, distracted the warden whilst the three made their escape.[7]

Amazingly, the street was deserted, but they still had to find their way out of South Africa, into Mozambique and to freedom. This had involved a great deal of prior planning, but there were still many challenges in the execution, travelling via Angola, Zambia and Tanzania finally to London.[9]

Life after prison[edit]

He and Lee appeared at a press conference in Lusaka with Oliver Tambo on 2 January 1980 to tell their stories,[13] before moving to London and working as a research officer for the International Defence and Aid Fund.[4] He and Lee went on a speaking tour in Sweden in the early 1980s.[14]

When living in Camden, he created a rudimentary computer that created coded messages which were able to be sent from the ANC to their agents, including Nelson Mandela in prison.[6]

He returned to South Africa in 1991 to manage the ANC's communications network. He worked for the ANC Elections Briefing Unit from 1994 (the year of the first fully democratic elections in South Africa), before being appointed head of their Electronic Information Unit in Cape Town later that year. In 1997, he became Director of Unwembi Communications (Pty) Ltd.[3]

He co-founded the Community Exchange System, an internet-based trading system, in 2003,[15] and went on a national tour in Australia with Karel Boele in 2015 to speak about this.[16]


  • In April 2018 he was awarded the RSA Conference Award for Excellence in the Field of Humanitarian Service.[17][18]

Books, TV and film[edit]

In 1987, his book Escape from Pretoria, was published in London.[3] A new edition was published in Johannesburg and London as Inside Out : Escape from Pretoria Prison in 2003.[19]

In 1995, Jenkin wrote a 6-part article series called Talking to Vula: The Story of the Secret Underground Communications Network of Operation Vula.[20][21]

In 2013, the story of the prison escape was dramatised in the 7th episode of the 2nd season of Breakout, a television series made by National Geographic TV channel dramatising real-life prison escapes. The video features excerpts from interviews with Jenkin, Lee, Moumbaris and Goldberg filmed in 2012, in between re-enacted scenes of the prison escape.[7]

In 2014 a documentary film called The Vula Connection, about Jenkin and his part in the creation of an ingenious secret communication system that enabled Vula operatives to penetrate South Africa's borders in secret, ultimately smuggling messages to the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, was made by Marion Edmunds.[22][23]

In May 2017, it was announced that production would start on a film of Jenkin's book, produced by David Barron and starring Daniel Radcliffe as Jenkin and Ian Hart as Goldberg.[24][25] Filming of Escape from Pretoria began in Adelaide, South Australia, in March 2019, with Daniel Webber joining the cast as Lee.[26][27] Jenkin spent some time in Adelaide, advising Radcliffe on accent and other aspects of the film, as well as playing as an extra, playing a prisoner next to Radcliffe in the visiting room. He also participated in a local parkrun, a hobby which he said stemmed back from his days of running to keep fit in prison.[28]


  • Jenkin, Tim (1987). Escape from Pretoria. Worldcat. London: Kliptown. ISBN 9780904759778. OCLC 924674792.
  • Jenkin, Tim (1995). "Talking to Vula: The story of the secret underground communications network of Operation Vula". Archived from the original on 22 July 2018.
  • Jenkin, Tim (2003). Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison. Worldcat (New ed.). Johannesburg: Jacana. ISBN 9781919931500. OCLC 653065100.


  1. ^ "Who are we?". Community Exchange System. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  2. ^ Jenkin 1987, pp. 6-7
  3. ^ a b c d Jenkin, Tim (1987). Escape from Pretoria. Worldcat. London: Kliptown. ISBN 9780904759778. OCLC 924674792. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Tim Peter Jenkin". South African History Online. 24 May 2017. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  5. ^ Jenkin 1987, pp. 16
  6. ^ a b Parry, Tom (19 April 2013). "Pretoria Prison break: Amazing story of the daring men who escaped notorious apartheid regime jail". Mirror. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Breakout. YouTube (video). Tim Jenkin. 30 July 2013. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  8. ^ a b Goldberg, Denis (2015). A Life for Freedom: The Mission to End Racial Injustice in South Africa. University Press of Kentucky. p. 170-88. ISBN 9780813166858. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Jenkin, Tim (1987). Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison. Worldcat (New ed.). Johannesburg: Jacana. ISBN 9781919931500. OCLC 653065100.
  10. ^ "Alex Moumbaris". South African History Online. 13 June 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  11. ^ "Stephen Bernard Lee". South African History Online. 28 September 2017. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  12. ^ Jenkin, Tim (1987). "Escape from Pretoria" (PDF). South African History Online. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  13. ^ Tambo, Oliver (2 January 1980). "Press Conference by O. R. Tambo, Introducing Alexandre Moumbaris, Stephen Lee and Timothy Jenkin who Escaped from Prison in South Africa". South African History Online. Lusaka. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  14. ^ Gray, Madi. "Chapter 9: To build solidarity - that was my task". South African History Online. Retrieved 20 March 2019. In Denis Goldberg : freedom fighter and humanist, edited by David Kenvyn (2014)
  15. ^ a b "Timothy Jenkin". Ashoka. 2007. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  16. ^ "Should communities be able to design their own currencies?: National speaking tour with Tim Jenkin and Karel Boele". Jnana Australia. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  17. ^ "Award for Excellence in the Field of Humanitarian Service". RSA Conference. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  18. ^ "RSAC TV Interview with Tim Jenkin" (video). RSA Conference. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  19. ^ Jenkin, Tim (1978). Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison. Worldcat (New ed.). Johannesburg: Jacana. ISBN 9781919931500. OCLC 653065100. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  20. ^ Jenkin, Tim (1995). "Talking to Vula: The story of the secret underground communications network of Operation Vula". Archived from the original on 22 July 2018.
  21. ^ Garrett, R. Kelly; Edwards, Paul N. (2006). "Revolutionary Secrets: Technology's Role in the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement" (PDF). Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  22. ^ The Vula Connection on YouTube
  23. ^ "Marion Edmunds filmography".
  24. ^ Mitchell, Robert (18 May 2017). "Daniel Radcliffe to Star in Prison-Break Drama 'Escape From Pretoria'". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  25. ^ Grater, Tom. "Sam Neill joins Daniel Radcliffe in 'Escape From Pretoria'". Screen Daily. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  26. ^ Sutton, Malcolm (13 March 2019). "Adelaide transformed into apartheid-era Cape Town for Escape From Pretoria filming". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  27. ^ 7News Adelaide (17 February 2019). "Daniel Radcliffe touches down in Adelaide for new movie". Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  28. ^ "Tim's back on the run". Adelaide Confidential. The Advertiser. 29 March 2019. p. 6.

Cited works[edit]

Further viewing[edit]