10 August 2017

Statement from the Ahmed Timol Family Trust


Judge says he wants to hear more from former security police

The expected appearance today of a mystery security police witness before the re-opened inquest into the death in police custody of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol 46 years ago has been delayed to allow the state time to interview other witnesses who made contact with the court this week.

Before adjourning proceedings in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, this morning, Judge Billy Mothle revealed that a number of potential witnesses had come forward, including a former security policeman who had directly called his office. Court proceedings resume from Monday to Wednesday next week (14-16 August). 

Judge Mothle said the inquest was not open-ended (it was scheduled to complete the cross examination of witnesses this week). But he felt it important to hear what former members of the security police had to say, in particular those stationed at John Vorster Square at the time of Timol’s detention and – four days later – his death.

He said he would like former Sergeant Joao “Jan” Rodrigues to be recalled next Wednesday after the court had heard from the new witnesses.

Rodrigues’ was the security police’s star witness at the original inquest in 1972. The Magistrate, a Mr De Villiers, accepted Rodrigues evidence that he was alone with Timol in the minutes leading up to his suicide by “diving” out the 10th floor window – and that Timol showed no sign of torture or assault. De Villiers dismissed other possible causes of death as “ludicrous”.

Rodrigues stuck to his version over nearly three days of cross examination last week despite Judge Mothle pointing out telling differences in his account compared to those of expert witnesses including forensic pathologists and a trajectory specialist.

Rodrigues was accused by Advocate Howard Varney SC, for the Timol family, of fabricating evidence to cover-up the death. He would be asking Judge Mothle to recommend prosecuting Rodrigues, he said.

Before today’s adjournment the court was told by a third witness that Timol fell from the John Vorster Square Police Station in the morning on 27 October 1971 – and not in the afternoon as police, including Rodrigues, have alleged.

Abdulla Adam has worked at the garage opposite John Vorster Square since 1970, he told the court. On the morning of Timol’s death, his boss alerted him to a “commotion” across the road outside the police station.

Mr Adam said he crossed the street and saw Timol’s body, partly obscured by a shrub, before onlookers were shooed away by white men he assumed to be members of the security police.

He was certain that the incident occurred during his morning tea break, around 10am, he said. Tea breaks were important to him in those days because he couldn’t eat breakfast due to having to rely for transport to work on the old red busses that only allowed 10 black passengers at a time. He’d usually have to wait for several busses to pass before being allowed to board one, so he needed to leave home for work early.

After viewing the body he returned to work – though his tea was already cold, Mr Adam said.

He was followed to the witness box by forensic pathologist Professor Steve Naidoo, whom Judge Mothle had asked to return to testify on the time of day of Timol’s death.

In his evidence in chief two weeks ago, Professor Naidoo told the court that Timol had been so severely assaulted prior to his fall that he doubted he would have been physically capable of standing up, let alone running around and diving out of a window.

Judge Mothle was particularly keen for Professor Naidoo to interpret the report of the first doctor to see Timol after the fall, a Dr Kemp, who described Timol as “pas dood” – recently deceased – when he examined him.

But Professor Naidoo told the court that “pas dood” could refer to anything between 30 minutes and 24 hours. There was no way to narrow down the time without conducting a proper examination.

Professor Naidoo, former Chief Specialist and Professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, based his evidence to the court on his studies of the 1971 post-mortem report and photographs, and other remaining evidence placed before the 1972 inquest.

* The State agreed to re-open the Timol Inquest after investigation by the family revealed new evidence. 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 super-sleuth, Frank Dutton, among others.


For more information please call Benny Gool on 082 5566 556 or Roger Friedman on 0798966 899.

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