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It was late Oc­to­ber, 1971. In one of the of­fices on the no­to­ri­ous 10th floor at John Vorster Square, a young woman found her­self help­lessly stand­ing in a pud­dle of her own urine with male apartheid se­cu­rity po­lice of­fi­cers mock­ing her and laugh­ing at her hu­mil­i­a­tion. Dr Dil­shad Jhetam re­mem­bers hav­ing elec­tronic pads ap­plied to her shoul­der blades and se­cu­rity po­lice send­ing ex­cru­ci­at­ing and paralysing shocks through her body. She was left lit­er­ally pow­er­less.

Now, 45 years later, she still asks her­self: If she was left that drained and fee­ble, how could her po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist friend Ahmed Ti­mol, who was 29 at the time, have sum­moned the strength to jump to his death through a window on the same floor af­ter en­dur­ing the same or­deal, if not worse?

Jhetam tes­ti­fied on Fri­day in the South Gaut­eng High Court in Jo­han­nes­burg in an in­quest re­opened af­ter pres­sure by Ti­mol’s fam­ily. The fam­ily brought new in­for­ma­tion never placed be­fore court dur­ing an ear­lier in­quest in 1972. Ti­mol died on Oc­to­ber 27, 1971, while be­ing in­ter­ro­gated for his role in the ANC un­der­ground move­ment.

The mag­is­trate at the time ac­cepted the po­lice’s story that Ti­mol com­mit­ted sui­cide in de­ten­tion. But the Ti­mol fam­ily have re­fused to ac­cept this and now want the court to con­sider ad­di­tional tes­ti­mony and new in­for­ma­tion.

In his open­ing ad­dress to the court, the Ti­mols’ coun­sel, Howard Var­ney, said the fam­ily wanted to “demon­strate ... that the po­lice did in­deed man­u­fac­ture a ver­sion to cover up the truth of what hap­pened to Ahmed Ti­mol”.

Wit­nesses this week have re­called their hor­rific or­deals in a bid to prove that Ti­mol could not have had the strength to fling him­self out of the window af­ter all the tor­ture he had en­dured.

Jhetam – a car­di­ol­o­gist – re­called her pain and hu­mil­i­a­tion: “I needed to re­lieve my­self ... they would not let me. I still feel the pain; I still feel the hu­mil­i­a­tion ... I still feel aw­ful when I think of urine run­ning down my legs.”

Jhetam is also the only de­tainee so far to tes­tify about what she heard. Al­though she could not see Ti­mol in the of­fice next to the one in which she was be­ing tor­tured, she had heard him scream.

It was in the early hours of the morn­ing on the third day of her con­tin­u­ous in­ter­ro­ga­tion that, all of a sud­den, his scream­ing stopped.

Sud­denly, she said, her own in­ter­ro­ga­tion came to an abrupt end and there was “a hive” of ac­tiv­ity on the floor with po­lice of­fi­cers “go­ing up and down”. For the first time she was placed in a cell. She learnt of his death weeks later af­ter in­quir­ing about Ti­mol from one fe­male of­fi­cer who told her: “The In­dian is dead.”

Jhetam con­cluded that Ti­mol had prob­a­bly died dur­ing his in­ter­ro­ga­tion and that she had prob­a­bly heard him tak­ing his last breath.

Dr Saleem Es­sop, who was ar­rested along­side Ti­mol, was tor­tured for four days be­fore he slipped into a coma and was taken to hos­pi­tal. He tes­ti­fied that he too be­lieved that af­ter the hor­rific ex­pe­ri­ence his friend could not have sum­moned the en­ergy to throw him­self out of the 10th-floor window. Es­sop tes­ti­fied that among the meth­ods used to tor­ture him was be­ing suf­fo­cated with a plas­tic bag, slapped and kicked.

Asked if he could have taken his life af­ter all that Es­sop said: “No, I don’t think I would have had the phys­i­cal ca­pac­ity at all.”

Jhetam re­mem­bered be­ing mocked and laughed at af­ter she wet her­self. “Here I was, a de­cently brought up young lady at med­i­cal school and this hap­pened to me. It was hu­mil­i­at­ing ... they thought this was a huge joke; they mocked and laughed at me.”

Jhetam said the po­lice then brought a jug of wa­ter which, ev­ery now and then, she was forced to fin­ish. She ended up “stand­ing in a pud­dle of my own urine”.

While Jhetam was be­ing tor­tured in the of­fice next to where Ti­mol was be­ing held, Ti­mol’s younger brother Mo­ham­mad was go­ing through the same ex­pe­ri­ence in Dur­ban. Mo­ham­mad tes­ti­fied on Thurs­day that he was surprised when his in­ter­ro­ga­tion and tor­ture sud­denly stopped and he was of­fered a cup of tea and some food af­ter spend­ing the whole day with­out any. Shortly after­wards he was told his brother was dead and that he would not be al­lowed to at­tend his burial.

The in­quest is ex­pected to con­tinue later this month. At least three po­lice of­fi­cers who were in­volved in Ti­mol’s de­ten­tion have been sub­poe­naed to ap­pear in court, and are ex­pected to tes­tify.

HID­DEN HIS­TORY MK ac­tivist Ahmed Ti­mol fell to his death from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square. The state has re­opened the in­quest into the cir­cum­stances of his death

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