Tim Jenkin

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

OccupationResearcher, writer, activist

Timothy Peter Jenkin (born 1948) is a South African writer and former political prisoner best known for his 1979 escape from Pretoria Central Prison.

He was born in Cape Town and educated at Rondebosch Boys' Prep and Boys' High School. He earned his bachelor's degree in social science 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.[1][2]

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, from 1975 to 1978. He had 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, in 1979, Jenkin and fellow inmates Alex Moumbaris[3] and Stephen Lee[4] broke out of Pretoria Central Prison using handmade keys to nine of the doors leading out of the prison.[5] Denis Goldberg, a fellow inmate, distracted the warden whilst the three made their escape.[6] He has written a book about his experience:Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison, first released in 2013.[7][8] Their story was also dramatised in the seventh episode of the second season of Breakout, a television series.[6] In May 2017, it was announced that production would start in 2018 on a film of his book, with Daniel Radcliffe playing Jenkin. The film is to be produced by David Barron.[9]

Jenkin subsequently moved to London and worked as a research officer for the International Defence and Aid Fund.[2] 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. In 1997, he became Director of Unwembi Communications (Pty) Ltd.[1] He co-founded the Community Exchange System in 2003, and was elected an Ashoka fellow in 2007.[10]

In 1995, he wrote a 6-part article series called Talking to Vula: The Story of the Secret Underground Communications Network of Operation Vula.[11][12] 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.[13][14]

In April 2018 he was awarded the RSA Conference Award for Excellence in the Field of Humanitarian Service.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b "Amazon book listing". Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  2. ^ a b "South African History Online, bio of Tim Jenkin". Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  3. ^ "SA History bio on Alex Moumbaris". Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  4. ^ "SA History bio on Stephen Lee". Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  5. ^ "Escape from Pretoria by Tim Jenkin". Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b Escape from Pretoria on YouTube
  7. ^ "Worldcat listing". Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  8. ^ "Original 1987 version of Escape from Pretoria book" (PDF).
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Timothy Jenkin". ashoka.org.
  11. ^ "Talking to Vula: The story of the secret underground communications network of Operation Vula".
  12. ^ http://www.sahistory.org.za/sites/default/files/GarrettEdwards-RevolutionarySecrets-prepress.pdf
  13. ^ The Vula Connection on YouTube
  14. ^ "Marion Edmunds filmography".
  15. ^ "Award for Excellence in the Field of Humanitarian Service". Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  16. ^ "RSAC TV Interview with Tim Jenkin". Retrieved 17 April 2018.