‘He was pushed from the 10th floor or rooftop’
THE 2017 reopened inquest of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol has revealed a number of lessons to be learnt, including that branches of state had to ensure that the respect of human rights and dignity should never be crossed.
This was the message of Judge Billy Mothle during his 129-page judgment following the reopening of the inquest into Timol’s death. The inquest was the first of its kind in South Africa.
The judge found that Timol did not commit suicide 46 years ago when he fell from the notorious John Vorster Square police station in Joburg.
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 at the time 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 to prosecuting him on a charge of perjury and being an accessory after the fact.
“Rodrigues, on 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 1972 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 in their initiative to obtain the records and gather further information to have the initial inquests 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 in a roadblock on October 22, 1971. He was interrogated and tortured by members of the security 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.
On 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 during 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 branch officers 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. 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’s evidence explaining how Timol fell.
Ahmed Timol’s younger brother Mohammed Timol, nephew Imtiaz Cajee and Advocate George Bizos in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.