46 years on, family of S African activist call for murder charge
A South African policeman present at the suspicious death of a antiapartheid campaigner in 1971 should be charged with murder, a court heard yesterday as the official version of events came under harsh scrutiny. Joao Rodrigues, a former member of the feared security police, was allegedly the last officer to have been with Ahmed Timol before Timol plunged to his death from the 10th-floor of Johannesburg police headquarters. Rodrigues has faced three days of intensive questioning at the High Court inquest in Pretoria into Timol’s death and has at times given contradictory accounts of the incident of 46 years ago.
“You collaborated with the security branch to cover up various crimes: firstly the torture (of Timol)... as well as his murder,” said the Timol family lawyer Howard Varney. “We will be submitting to this court that the court recommend... that you be charged with perjury (and) the murder of Ahmed Timol.”Rodrigues, 78, has strenuously denied harming Timol or any involvement in his death, telling both the new inquest and an inquest in 1972 that Timol died by jumping out the window. “I do not concur with counsel’s submission,” Rodrigues said after Varney accused him of murder and other crimes.
Timol’s family has campaigned for decades for a new probe to overturn the 1972 court verdict that he had committed suicide. They had initially said they did not want to bring prosecutions against those involved but simply wanted to learn the truth. “Rodrigues is standing by what he said in 1972. By not being truthful he’s asking to be prosecuted. He’s not making things easy for himself,” Timol’s younger brother Mohammad said.
Judge questions evidence
Both the lawyers for Timol’s family and the state have raised multiple doubts over Rodrigues’ account of how the 29-year-old communist recruit fell to his death. “I have heard evidence from witnesses... which says to me that your story is not probable,” Judge Billy Mothle told Rodrigues yesterday. Rodrigues had told the court that Timol was not mistreated and had jumped out of the window after becoming fearful.
“I only saw him from the side... but he did not have any injuries,” added Rodrigues, who claimed that Timol barged past him to jump out of the window when he was left alone with the detainee. But Varney said that Timol had suffered serious injuries ahead of his plunge-a claim supported by two independent pathologist reports submitted to the court. “He could barely walk let alone get up and storm to the window and dive out,” said Varney.
Rodrigues had also claimed that Timol’s dash for the window “happened in a split second” and caught him off guard. “It would not be possible to run, open the window and dive,” said Varney, quoting the report of an aeronautical expert. “It was impossible in those circumstances and is yet another example of a transparent fabrication.” — AFP