THE 2017 re-opened inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol has revealed a number of lessons to be learnt, including that branches of the state have to ensure the respect of human rights and dignity.
This was the message by Judge Billy Mothle during his 129-page judgment.
The judge found that Timol did not commit suicide 46 years ago when he fell from the notorious John Vorster Square Police Station in Johannesburg.
He concluded that Timol was either pushed from the 10th floor of the building or from the rooftop.
Judge Mothle found that the then-Security Branch police officers who had interrogated Timol were collectively responsible for his death and should be held accountable.
“Timol did not jump… he was pushed and thus he did not commit suicide, but was murdered,” the judge said.
He said the act was committed through dolus eventualis, his interrogators should have foreseen that he could die, and on the face of it, it amounted to murder.
Judge Mothle said there was prima facie evidence implicating Security Branch officers Hans Gloy and Johannes van Niekerk. But both had since died. Jan Rodrigues, the officer who claimed to have been there when Timol fell out of the window, had to be investigated with a view of prosecuting him on a charge of perjury and being an accessory after the fact.
“Rodrigues in his own version participated in the cover-up to conceal the crime of murder as an accessory after the fact.
“He went on to commit perjury by presenting contradictory evidence before the 1971 and 2017 inquests,” the judge said.
He continued that it was the view of the court that the families whose relatives died in detention, particularly those where the inquest findings were death by suicide, should be assisted with their initiative, to obtain the records and gather further information to have the initial inquest reopened.
The judge said the Human Rights Commission, working with the law enforcement agencies, should be sufficiently resourced to take on this task.
Timol, a teacher, was 29 when he was arrested at a roadblock on October 22, 1971.
He was interrogated and tortured by members of the Special Branch for days on end, until his death on October 27.
His interrogation was conducted by Gloy and Van Niekerk.
Van Niekerk’s file indicated how he and Gloy were implicated in the assault and murder of detainees. Some occurred before Timol’s death and others afterwards.
The day Timol died, it was their turn to interrogate him in the feared Room 1026.
Three independent witnesses put the time of death in the morning, while Rodrigues stuck to his guns that it was in the afternoon.
The court accepted that Timol fell in the morning and that Rodrigues was brought in, in the afternoon, to legitimise the cover-up.
He concluded that the finding of the 1972 inquest, during which a magistrate found it was suicide and that “no living person is responsible for his death”, was wrong.
“It is ironic that 46 years after the death of Timol, the magistrate’s finding is partially correct, as most of the main perpetrators this court would have recommended for investigation and possible charges, have since passed on,” he said.
He recommended that apart from Rodrigues facing possible charges, former security policemen Neville Els and Seth Sons should be investigated for misleading the court.
They maintained that they knew nothing about the assault of detainees and that they had only read about it in the media.
The judge also referred to the fact that the reopening of the inquest came late in the day, when most of the policemen involved in Timol’s interrogation, had died.
He said in addition, the court had to deal with the mysterious disappearance of part of the 1972 inquest record, which dealt with the evidence of the police officials.
Equally mysterious, was the disappearance of the page of the record of Rodrigues’ evidence explaining how Timol fell.
The judge concluded that this inquest revealed that many more families were seeking closure on the unanswered questions of how their loved ones died while in detention.
“It is… the view of this court that the families whose relatives died in detention, particularly those where the inquest returned a finding of death by suicide, should be assisted, at their initiative, to obtain the records and gather further information with a view to have the initial inquest re-opened.
“They need healing. They need closure,” the judge said.
AHMED TIMOL ASHLEY KRIEL ABDULLAH HARON
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: The funerals of Ahmed Timol in 1971 in Roodepoort and Imam Abdullah Haron in 1969 in Cape Town. Yesterday’s ruling that Timol was murdered has left many families, including Haron’s, assured that the National Prosecuting Authority will reopen inquests into the deaths of their loved ones.