1 AUGUST 2017

Statement from the Ahmed Timol Family Trust


If Ahmed Timol was well treated prior to suicide, why was it necessary for policeman to lie that he had assaulted him?

The policeman allegedly alone in Room 1026 at John Vorster Square with political detainee Ahmed Timol in the minutes preceding Timol’s alleged suicide said yesterday that his superiors asked him to lie in his statement that he and the detainee had had a physical altercation immediately prior to Timol “diving” out of the window.

In evidence to the re-opened inquest into Timol’s death nearly 46 years ago, then-Sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues, now 78, said he had not laid a finger on Timol, and his refusal to lie eventually led to his resigning from the police as he realised he had no prospect of promotion.

Rodrigues named a General Buys and two of Timol’s interrogators, Captains Gloy and Van Niekerk, as those who pressured him to lie, as well as two other officers he did not know. He said he could not remember exactly what they wanted him to say, “but Buys wanted me to write that there had been a fight between me and Timol”. A serious confrontation between him and the officers took place. Asked by presiding judge, Mr Justice Billy Mothle if he had disclosed this information to the original Timol inquest, Rodrigues said he could not remember. 

According to police, Timol was consistently well-treated in the four days of his detention and interrogation. He was neither assaulted nor tortured, and was in perfect physical condition when he darted around a table and dived from the window of his 10th floor interrogation room. This version, embellished by security police disinformation that communists were instructed to commit suicide if detained, was endorsed by apartheid magistrate De Villiers who ruled Timol’s death a suicide.

But expert witnesses including academics, former detainees, a former security policeman, forensic pathologists and a trajectory specialist have given evidence to the the re-opened inquest that torture and assault were routine and systemic tools of the apartheid security police; that Timol was beaten to an inch of his life prior to plunging from the building and may have been unconscious before he fell; and that he was in all likelihood dropped by police from the roof.

Rodrigues’ evidence yesterday raises serious questions about why it would have been necessary for the police to lie about assaulting Timol if they had never assaulted him. Were they concerned, in the immediate aftermath of his death, that certain injuries  inconsonant with the fall may be identified in the post-mortem? 

According to the evidence of two forensic pathologists last week, they had reason for concern as the doctor who conducted the post-mortem indeed listed a litany of injuries that could not be explained by the fall.

Rodrigues’ will return to the witness box this morning to complete his cross-examination. Before beginning yesterday, he was warned by Judge Mothle that should he reach a finding that he had played a role in Timol’s death he may be liable for prosecution.

Among the questions he may face today would be to explain the commendation for splendid service he received from the national commissioner two days before Timol’s death was ruled a suicide in 1972.

Testifying before Rodrigues yesterday, 82-year-old former security police Captain Neville Els, couldn’t remember much. Just about all he was “definite” about was that in his 27-year career he never witnessed a prisoner being tortured or assaulted.

Els was the security policeman on duty on the night of Timol’s arrest, and was called to identify pamphlets found in the boot of the car Timol was driving. He was not a member of Timol’s interrogation team, but his name appeared on the list of interrogators of other detainees held at the same time as Timol who have claimed they were brutally tortured. Asked if he recalled the torture of Professor Kantilal Naik by the helicopter method until his arms were paralysed, Els said: “I personally at this stage cannot recall.”

Asked if he had interrogated any of the 22 detainees arrested at more-or-less the same time as Timol, he said it was possible but he couldn’t recall. 

He said he was aware of allegations of torture and assault from reading the newspapers and informal discussions with colleagues. 

* Ahmed Timol was the 22nd of 73 political detainees to die in detention between 1963 and 1990. No policemen have ever been held accountable. Although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended further investigations – and prosecutions – of  those who committed apartheid-era human rights violations but chose not to apply for amnesty, there have been no prosecutions. The State agreed to re-open the Timol Inquest after a investigation commissioned by the family unearthed new evidence.

The Timol family has been assisted by the South African non–profit Foundation on Human Rights (FHR); Advocate Howard Varney, a senior program adviser with The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICT), law firm Webber Wentzel, the Legal Resource Centre (LRC), and investigator, Frank Dutton, among others.


Distributed by Oryx Media.