03 August 2017


Former security cop’s version of Timol’s death “a fabrication”

The re-opened inquest into the death in detention of Ahmed Timol 46 years ago resumes this morning with a full roster of witnesses including a second eye-witness who will tell the court that Timol fell from John Vorster Square police station in the morning.

According to the police version of events, Timol committed suicide by diving through the 10th floor window of an interrogation room at 3.48pm on 27 October 1971.

Last Monday, retired State Advocate Ernie Matthis told the court he saw the body fall in the late morning, and today, a second eye-witness, Muhammed Ali Thokan, will corroborate Matthis’ timing of the event.

Other witnesses anticipated to give evidence today are:

  • An architect, who will testify about the form of the building from which Timol fell, and whether his body was likely to have incurred injuries as it fell; and
  • Former anti-apartheid soldier, communist party leader and cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils, who was a member of a special committee set up to develop underground activities in South Africa from the United Kingdom. Timol was one of the activists who received training from the group.

The inquest is expected to conclude on Friday with the cross-examination of Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee, who has been instrumental in forcing the case back onto the public agenda. Cajee’s dogged investigation of his uncle’s death over the past 21 years led to new evidence emerging and the State eventually agreeing to re-open the inquest.

Nobody has ever been held accountable for the deaths in detention of 73 political activists between 1963 and 1990.

It emerged yesterday that a former security police sergeant, who was subpoenaed to give evidence to the re-opened Timol inquest, could be the first…

After two-and-a-half days of cross-examination, in which Sergeant Joao “Jan” Rodrigues stuck to the story he gave the original apartheid inquest which ruled Timol’s death a suicide in 1972, counsel for the Timol family, Advocate Howard Varney told Rodrigues he would ask the court to recommend he be charged with murder.

Rodrigues’ version of events is that he was alone in the room with Timol, who showed no signs of having been assaulted or tortured, when Timol darted to the window and dived through.

His version fundamentally contradicted expert medical and trajectory witnesses who gave evidence last week that Timol was critically injured prior to the fall, and that if he had dived as alleged the body could not have landed where it did.

Varney dismissed Rodrigues’ evidence as a fabrication underpinning a police cover-up.

Inquest Judge, Mr Justice Billy Mothle, concluded Rodrigues’ cross-examination yesterday afternoon after warning him that depending on how his evidence compared to that of other witnesses there was a risk that he could recommend his prosecution.

If he accepted Rodrigues’ version, he would have to reject the autopsy report. Conversely, if the autopsy was correct Rodrigues’ evidence was false, he said.

The same applied to the evidence that forensic pathologists and a trajectory expert put before the court. Why should he reject their evidence and accept his, the judge asked Rodrigues.

Rodrigues couldn’t say. He couldn’t explain why he had not faced a police disciplinary hearing for allowing Timol to escape his clutches, telling the judge that perhaps he had just been lucky.

Nor could he explain the letter of commendation for good service he received from the national police commissioner just a few days before the inquest judgement was handed down in 1972. He was, after all, a lowly admin clerk whose file indicated he was often on sick leave. Rodriguess told the court he did not know about the letter, and doubted it had anything to do with the evidence he gave the inquest magistrate.


  • The inquest is being held in Court 2D at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria. Proceedings start at 10am. Members of the public are welcome to attend.
  • The Timol family is 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.
  • An exhibition on the life and times of Ahmed Timol Exhibition has been set up at the Ditsong Museum (149 Visagie Street) and will run until 22 September. Entrance costs R15 for children and R32 for adults. The Museum is open Monday to Friday between 8am and 4pm.


For more information please call Benny Gool on 082 5566 556 or Roger Friedman on 079 896 6 899.


Distributed by Oryx Media.