28 July 2017
Statement from the Ahmed Timol Family Trust
DID TIMOL JUMP, OR WAS HE THROWN OR DROPPED
Trajectory expert testifies to re-opened inquest today
Using the eye-witness account of retired advocate Ernie Matthis on the orientation of Ahmed Timol’s body as he fell, calculated against the weight of the body and the distance from the building where it landed, an aeronautical engineer specialising in trajectory calculations will present his findings to the re-opened inquest today on whether Timol jumped, was thrown or dropped to his death.
Ahmed Timol, an anti-apartheid activist representing the then-banned South African Communist Party, died four days after being detained by police 46 years ago. Police said they treated him well prior to his committing suicide by jumping from a 10th floor. They said his suicide was consistent with an instruction published in a communist newsletter that detainees should commit suicide to avoid revealing information. The magistrate who conducted the original inquest believed the police.
Former communists have dismissed the suicide instruction as a police fabrication and its alleged publication as a police forgery.
When activists were detained in those days, they entered what psychologist Professor Don Foster described to the court yesterday as a “closed system”, totally at the mercy of their captors – who practised systematic and brutal physical and psychological torture – and by extension, state doctors and judicial officers.
Seventy-three political detainees died in detention between 1963 and 1990. The police commonly ascribed the deaths to suicides or accidents. Although the fact that police tortured and assault detainees was widely known then, not least by the police, detainees, lawyers, prosecutors and judges – and this fact became even more widely known during Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings 20 years ago, no members of the police have ever been held accountable.
The State agreed to re-open the Timol inquest after an investigation commissioned by the family unearthed new evidence.
Among this evidence was that presented by forensic pathologists earlier this week. Working separately, the pathologists arrived at similar conclusions: Timol was so badly injured prior to the fall that he may have been unconscious, and was certainly not in a position to have been enjoying a quiet cup of coffee before springing up and jumping through the window, as the police contended.
On Monday, retired state advocate Ernie Matthis testified that he was working on the fourth or sixth floor of John Vorster Square when he saw the body fall. It was falling horizontally, not head or feet first, parallel to the face of the building with the head pointing towards the highway. Matthis said he looked down to see where the body landed, and immediately looked up, and couldn’t see an open window.
There have been various vague references in cross-examination this week to the possibility that Timol may have been thrown from the roof.
Today’s testimony by aeronautical engineer Thivash Moodley is expected to interpret Matthis’ testimony. Moodley’s calculations have also included building and window measurements. Moodley has 19 years’ experience in trajectory calculations in the aerospace, defence and vehicle dynamics field.
Seven former security policemen have been subpoenaed to give evidence to the re-opened inquest, most of them next week. Among them is the former administrative clerk, Sergeant Joao Anastacio Rodrigues, who was the only person in the room with Timol when he jumped, on the police version of events.
A mystery legal application by Rodrigues legal representative this week, relating to Rodrigues’ not having access to the original inquest file – which is missing and may have been destroyed – was mysteriously withdrawn yesterday before being presented.
Lead investigator for the Timol family, the internationally acclaimed Mr Frank Dutton, told the court about documents he discovered in Rodrigues’ police file.
Dutton’s affidavit included the following account:
“He (Rodrigues) bought his discharge on 5 June 1972. On 20 June 1972, he received a Letter of Commendation for “service to the State” from Commissioner of Police, General GJ Joubert. This was just two days before the Magistrate issued his finding into the death of Timol on 22 June 1972, which exonerated the police from any wrongdoing.
“In this letter the Commissioner expressed his ‘appreciation’ for the ‘dedicated service’ of Rodrigues to the State as well as his ‘exemplary’ behaviour which was demonstrated by his ‘unblemished record’ which he served in a ‘faithful and competent manner’.
“I find this letter particularly curious in the light of the following, which emerged from his member file.
“’He joined the SAP on 9 February 1956 and on 27 June 1956 he was convicted of Statutory Perjury for Contravening Section 9 of Act 16 of 1914 and given a suspended sentence for five years provided he was not again convicted of an offence involving dishonesty.’
“He spent his entire career in clerical positions in the Finance Section at HQ. During 1969 he transferred to the Salary Section of Security Branch Headquarters, Pretoria.
“According to his SAP 28 he took 301 days sick leave between 9 February 1957 and 15 November 1971, including 53 days sick leave he took for Sport related injury. This is in my opinion an extraordinarily high number of sick days.
“He failed to stop Mr Timol from escaping from room 1026, notwithstanding Timol’s dire condition after nearly five days of torture, abuse and sleep deprivation. According to his member file he was 6 foot high and weighed 142 lbs in 1956 and in 1975 he was 1m 89cm high and weighed 87 kgs. This contrasts sharply with Timol’s size as recorded in the Post Mortem Report, which was 1m 60cms and 65 kg in width. According to Rodrigues file, he was active in the following sports`: karate, boxing, wrestling and athletics.
“He was issued with no letters of recommendation, recorded achievements, medals for bravery of good service,
“On Tuesday 18 July 2017 I attended an inspection of member files at SAPS HQ. I inspected some 28 former SB members who were present at John Vorster Square in October 1971. None of their files contains such letters of commendation.
“His letter of commendation as well as his certificate of service which described his police service as ‘exemplary’ with an ‘unblemished record seems wholly irrational to me. In the circumstances it has to be asked whether Rodrigues was being commended for his role in the Timol matter”.
The inquest is being held in Gauteng Division of the High Court, Pretoria, in Room 2D. Members of the public are welcome to attend.
- The Ahmed Timol Exhibition is running at the Ditsong Museum (149 Visagie Street, Pretoria) until 22 September. Entrance costs R15 for children and R32 for adults. The Museum is open Monday to Friday between 8am and 4pm.