‘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.

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