24 August 2017


Family to ask Judge Mothle to recommend criminal investigation

In final argument today, counsel for the Timol family Advocate Howard Varney SC is expected to ask the court to recommend the investigation of criminal charges against apartheid security policemen who provided false evidence under oath to the re-opened inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol.

With respect to former Sergeant Joao “Jan” Rodrigues, Varney is expected to argue that the criminal investigation should consider charges of murder and accessory after the fact in covering up the murder.

Timol, a communist and anti-apartheid activist, was arrested in October 1971 and taken to the notorious John Vorster Square Police Station for interrogation. Four days later he was dead.

According to police, Timol was not tortured or assaulted while in their care. He committed suicide by diving through the window of a 10th floor interrogation room. An inquest was held in 1972 to officially endorse the police version.

Ahmed Timol’s family believed the police were lying, and 45 years later presented new evidence that persuaded the National Prosecuting Authority to re-open the inquest.

The re-opened inquest, before Mr Justice Billy Mothle, has heard technical evidence from forensic pathologists and a trajectory expert to the effect that Timol was too badly injured to have been able to jump out the window – and if he had jumped he couldn’t possibly have landed where he did.

Members of the South African Communist Party came to court to rubbish the security police contention that communists were under instructions to commit suicide and avoid revealing information. Former political detainees described their torture and assault, and the court heard from former police and an academic that torture and assault were routinely practised.

But three former security policemen subpoenaed to give evidence stuck to the original 46-year-old version of events. None of the three had ever witnessed the torture or assault of detainees, they said.

The group included the mysterious former Sergeant Rodrigues, who on the police version was alone in the room with Timol when Timol committed suicide. Rodrigues could not explain why he, a lowly clerk with a propensity for taking sick leave, received a special commendation from the national police commissioner.

Rodrigues said Timol displayed no signs of any injuries (despite the forensic pathologists listing grievous injuries including a depressed skull fracture, shattered jaw and dislocated ankle).

The Timol family believes Timol was so severely assaulted that the story of his suicide was fabricated, that he was pushed out the 10th floor window or off the roof, and that Rodrigues has been central to covering up the murder for nearly 46 years.

The judge must decide if any agency or individuals can be held accountable for Timol’s death, and can include recommendations in his judgement.

Timol was among 73 anti-apartheid activists who died in detention between 1963 and 1990. The police commonly attributed the deaths to suicide or accident.

The Timol family is not seeking vengeance, or blood money from the State; it seeks only for the truth to be established and placed on record. 

* 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.

Proceedings will take place at the Gauteng High Court Division, Pretoria in Court Room 2D at 10:00

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

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