22 August 2017


His evidence to re-opened Timol Inquest “simply not true”

Five former political detainees have deposed affidavits contradicting former security policeman Seth Sons contention to the re-opened Timol inquest that he was unaware of the torture and assault of captured anti-apartheid activists.

The affidavits, filed at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria yesterday, followed a lengthy social media post by ANC Deputy Secretary General Jesse Duarte a few hours after Sons’ appearance last Thursday labelling him a “torture master”.

Sons, who rose to the rank of colonel, was among the most senior black members of the repressive apartheid security police.

All five former detainees allege that Sons played a role in their humiliation and assault.

A man who is today a prominent human rights lawyer deposed an affidavit about the events following his arrest in 1980 during protests against unequal education. He was taken to John Vorster Square, where he was detained for two weeks. “I was stripped naked in that first session. Paul Erasmus was present. I distinctly remember Sons taking off my spectacles and as I was looking at him other police started slapping and kicking me,” he wrote.

A former youth activist from Bosmont, arrested while a student at the University of the Witwatersrand in1983, was taken to the 10th floor at John Vorster Square where a“burly white man” threatened to thrown him out of the window. “Captain Sons returned to the office after about half an hour and became angry when he noticed that I had not written anything down. He then slapped me on the sides of my head with an open hand,” the IT consultant said.

The writer of the third affidavit was arrested while campaigning against the government-sponsored South African Indian Council, in Lenasia. “I was then taken to the 10th floor where Major Cronwright and Major Arbee… started assaulting me. Sons was with me at that point. The assault took place in the presence of Sons. Aside from striking me in my face Major Arbee grabbed my hair and banged my head on the desk.

A former organiser for the Transvaal Indian Congress (and later the UDF), testified about his detention in 1980 in connection with school boycotts. On his way to John Vorster Square,Captain Sons, knowing that he was of Muslim extraction, threatened to force him to eat pork while giving praise to Allah. I understood this as a threat and a clear attempt to humiliate and intimidate me,” he wrote.

The writer of the fifth affidavit was a young man arrested in 1975 while on the school bus; he was campaigning against the co-option of the Labour Party into the Tri-Cameral Parliament at the time. Taken to the 9th floor at John Vorster Square, “I sustained torture at the hands of Lt Sons and others,” he said. “Once on the ground Lt Visser and Lt Sons each took an arm and a leg and lifted me off the ground and then repeatedly dropped me on my back. Lt Sons then held me down and Lt Visser sat on my chest and kicked me repeatedly on my head with the heel of his shoe. Thereafter, Lt Sons pulled my pants down and squeezed my testicles saying ‘as his grandmother would do’.”

Several of the affidavits make the point that although Sons was an enthusiastic, dedicated and relatively high-ranking security policeman, he remained subordinate to all whites. “He was still junior to the most junior of the white security policemen. The black security policemen never did the primary interrogation, which was the preserve of the white security policemen,” one said. Another said that Sons and his black henchmen appeared to mostly do “menial” work. “It appeared they were always under pressure to prove their commitment to their white security police colleagues,” he said.

One of the former detainees added that Sons: “Would definitely have been aware of the beatings or torture at John Vorster Square. This is because one could easily hear people when they were being assaulted or tortured, and sometimes one could even see assaults taking place through stained glass partitions”.

In the witness box last Thursday, Sons recalled with great clarity being the driver of a vehicle that took a bunch of security policemen to search the home of Ahmed Timol’s parents.  On their return to John Vorster Square he noticed a commotion in the carpark and was informed that a prisoner had committed suicide by jumping out of a window. He later learned that the prisoner was Timol. But Sons said he could not recall ever witnessing the torture or assault of prisoners; he had read allegations of such in the newspapers.

“He forgot that he made me kneel next to my brother Achmat [Dangor] as his goons from the SB searched our house for 6 hours,” Deputy Secretary General Duarte posted on Facebook and Twitter.

“He refused my grandmother on the same day entrance to the toilet and she wet herself. He slapped my mother when she wanted to hug her sister who was handcuffed… Your office was on the 9th floor of John Vorster Square. You knew what took place in that space. You stood with folded arms as chairbacks were used as racks and as many of us were choked. Smacked. Kicked. You watched as pee ran down our legs because you made us stand for hours…”

Ahmed Timol was an anti-apartheid activist for the South African Communist Party and the ANC. He was arrested at a roadblock in 1971 and taken to John Vorster Square. He was interrogated on the 10th floor. Four days later he was dead. The police said he committed suicide, and an inquest held in 1972 found that any other conclusion would be “ludicrous”.

Timol was the 22nd of 73 political detainees to die in detention. The police routinely ascribed the deaths to suicides or accidents; no members of the police have ever been prosecuted in connection with any of the deaths.

But the Timol family never accepted the suicide verdict. They were convinced that Timol was murdered by the police, and 46 years after his death presented new evidence that persuaded the State to re-open the inquest.

On Thursday, lawyers will present their final arguments in Room 4E at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to Mr Justice Billy Mothle.

* 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.

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

Distributed by Oryx Media.