He was born in Cape Town in 1948 and educated at Rondebosch Boys' Prep and Boys' High School. He earned his B.Soc.Sci. degree at the University of Cape Town in 1973 and began his career as a social worker at a reform school in Swindon, UK the following year. He then worked as a researcher for the Institute for Social Development at the University of the Western Cape.
Jenkin was charged with "producing and distributing 18 different pamphlets on behalf of banned organisations" including the South African Communist Party, African National Congress and the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He did so from 1975 to 1978 and also posted a sign on the seventh floor of a Cape Town building which said "The ANC lives". He was arrested, pleaded guilty to all charges and received a 12-year sentence. However, a year later in 1979, Jenkin and fellow inmates Alex Moumbaris and Stephen Lee broke out of Pretoria Central Prison. Denis Goldberg, a fellow inmate, distracted the warden whilst the three made their escape.
He returned to South Africa in 1991 to manage the ANC's communications network. He worked for the ANC Elections Briefing Unit from 1994 before being appointed head of their Electronic Information Unit in Cape Town later that year, leaving that position in 1997 to become Director of Umwembi Communications (Pty) Ltd. He co-founded the Community Exchange System in 2003, and was elected an Ashoka fellow in 2007.
In 1995 he wrote a 6-part series of articles called Talking to Vula: The Story of the Secret Underground Communications Network of Operation Vula published in Mayibuye: Journal of the African National Congress. He wrote a book describing the prison break called Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison (first published in 2003).
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.
- Alternative exchange systems
- "Amazon book listing". Retrieved 19 May 2017.
- "South African History Online, bio of Tim Jenkin". Retrieved 20 May 2017.
- "SA History bio on Alex Moumbaris". Retrieved 22 May 2017.
- "SA History bio on Stephen Lee". Retrieved 22 May 2017.
- on YouTube
- "Timothy Jenkin". ashoka.org.
- "The story of the secret underground communications network of Operation Vula, Part 6: Vula Winds Up".
- "Worldcat listing". Retrieved 19 May 2017.
- on YouTube
- "Marion Edmunds filmography".
- Mitchell, Robert (18 May 2007). "Daniel Radcliffe to Star in Prison-Break Drama 'Escape From Pretoria'". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 1 October 2017.