2 August 2017
Statement from the Ahmed Timol Family Trust
SECURITY POLICEMAN JOAO “JAN” RODRIGUES STICKS TO HIS STORY
If he doesn’t resolve the riddles today he may be liable for prosecution
Mr Rodrigues, 78, the former security police sergeant who says he was in the room with political detainee Ahmed Timol 46 years ago, when he saw Timol commit suicide, goes by the name of Jan because people battle with the Portuguese, Joao.
He has valiantly sought to present himself to the re-opened Ahmed Timol inquest this week as a caring and warm, elderly uncle. He walked with a stick due to what appears to be recent leg surgery, though his 1.88m frame is relatively unbowed, his hearing is intact and he has a twinkle in his eye. He described his duties helping the wives and children of interrogators to doctors and doing shopping while their husbands were busy. (Not that he had any idea what they were doing!)
His actual profession was journalism, he said, and Jan is the name he has used as the author of eight books about wildlife and the great outdoors he has produced since leaving the police soon after providing crucial testimony to the apartheid inquest into Timol’s death which ruled the death a suicide. Did we mention he received a special award of commendation for his service as a clerk? Nobody else in his section did. He couldn’t explain it yesterday; said it was the first he heard of it.
He left the police because he was being ostracised by his superior officers who tried to intimidate him into lying to the inquest that he had wrestled with Timol prior to Timol jumping out the window, he told the re-opened inquest. Though shortly after leaving he returned for what sounded like counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism training – he couldn’t remember what the training was called. There was a “total onslaught” against the government at the time, and he felt he needed training in how to defend himself. He was taught to handle various weapons and carry out arrests, among other things. Then he resigned again… to concentrate on other things, he wasn’t too specific, mainly journalism, he suggested.
The Sergeant may have hoped to have left the past in the past, but it has descended on him in Court 2D at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, like a most unwanted visitor. Rodrigues was subpoenaed to testify at the inquest. His cross-examination began on Monday, when he was warned by presiding judge Mr Justice Billy Mothle to be careful to tell the truth to avoid the potential for prosecution. Rodrigues’ cross-examination by Howard Varney SC for the Timol family resumes today.
Rodrigues faced a barrage of questioning from State Advocate Torie Pretorius SC yesterday, before Varney began his examination.
Besides the addition of a few marginally interesting “new facts”, such as the alleged receipt of death threats after refusing to lie in his statement to the Timol inquest in 1972, Rodrigues stuck to his story. He remained calm and unruffled throughout.
He was an administrative clerk of the security police interrogation unit based at the Kompol headquarters in Pretoria. He was requested by Captain JH Gloy to bring his and Captain JZ Van Niekerk’s paychecks to John Vorster Square where they were working – with another sealed envelope. Gloy and Van Niekerk were members of Timol’s interrogation team.
Rodrigues, personally, knew nothing of interrogation or torture as he was a lowly administration clerk, Rodrigues said…
At John Vorster Square he found his way to the office where the Captains were working, intercepting someone with a tray of coffee on his way in. It was all jolly civilized, as the former Sergeant Rodrigues described it. One of the three cups of coffee was for the prisoner, Timol, he said.
Soon afterwards, a secret agent popped his head through the door with what was evidently bad news for Timol, who looked shocked. Then the Captains told him to guard Timol carefully as he was a valuable asset and they wished to step outside for a moment.
He has a good look at Timol, who was fully dressed, and did not notice any injuries on his face or hands.
Rodrigues proceeded to describe in intimate details the steps that allegedly ensued when Timol darted to the window and dived through. His movements did not betray any serious injuries to his legs. He (Rodrigues) stumbled over a chair and there was nothing he could do…
In the police photographs of the scene, besides the fact that only two coffee cups are visible on the table, the most impressive object is surely the sight of Rodrigues, himself, in his short pants and long socks, 1970s, rugby, judo and wrestling prime.
The room itself appears tiny and dominated by the interrogation table and chairs. One struggles to conceive the tiny Timol taking on and managing to evade the towering sergeant – even if Timol was in perfect physical health.
Serious questions remain, among them:
Given that, on his own version of events, Rodrigues, (1.) Palpably failed to guard Timol particularly carefully due to his status as a valuable witness, as instructed by his superiors, and (2.) Refused to bow to pressure from his superiors to lie that he had wrestled with Timol prior to Timol committing suicide, how is it possible that he received a commendation from the National Police Commissioner for splendid service two days before Inquest Magistrate De Villiers pronounced Timol’s death a suicide.
Either Rodrigues is lying that Timol appeared in perfect physical condition when he met him, minutes before Timol committed suicide, or a pair of eminent forensic pathologists – Professor Steve Naidoo and Dr Shakeera Holland – who separately told the inquest court last week that Timol had a broken nose, shattered jaw and depressed skull fracture prior to his fall from a great height at John Vorster Square, must have been mistaken. The doctors said Timol was so badly injured that he would not have been able to drink coffee, as Rodrigues alleges, or commit suicide by diving out the window. Besides his head injuries, Timol suffered a crippling ankle injury before the fall, they said.
If Rodrigues’ account of Timol’s dive is true, then it is not just the pathologists who got it wrong, but also the aeronautical engineer, Thivash Moodley, who testified on the trajectory of Timol’s fall. Moodley, who has extensive experience in trajectory calculations in the aerospace, defence and vehicle dynamics fields, modeled all possible accounts of Timol’s fall: That he dived from the window, was pushed out of the window, dropped from the window – and concluded that he was probably rolled off the roof or lowered beneath the level of the window and dropped. It was impossible for him to have dived in the orientation he fell, described by retired state advocate Ernie Matthis, as he would have had to plunge through the glass of the open window for his head to face the direction it was in.
And, if Timol was well treated prior to suicide, and uninjured prior to his suicide, why was it necessary for policeman to lie that he had assaulted him? Surely the police were more in the business of denying they assaulted prisoners than manufacturing evidence that they were bullies.
The State agreed to reopen the Ahmed Timol inquest after an investigation conducted by and at the behest of the Timol family presented it with new evidence.
Distributed by Oryx Media.