Timol inquest told of tricks and torture
LIES, deception, “resident sweepers” and dirty tricks.
These were all part of the apartheid era regime’s tactics, many following the “evil” events which occurred on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square during and after interrogations in the “truth room – room 1026”.
This was the dramatic evidence of former John Vorster Square security branch officer Paul Erasmus, who painted a dark picture of what happened inside and outside the former heavily secured police headquarters in Joburg.
Erasmus took the stand in the high court in Pretoria, during the second leg of the reopening of the Ahmed Timol inquest yesterday.
Erasmus was still at school when Timol died, but was called to paint a picture of the apartheid regime’s tactics.
The reopened inquest into the death of the anti-apartheid activist in police custody 46 years ago is seeking answers as to who should be held responsible.
The police claimed he committed suicide when he fell out of a window on the 10th floor on October 27, 1971. This was four days after being arrested at a police roadblock in the company of a medical student, Saleem Essop.
The police version of events, endorsed by the inquest magistrate at the time, was that Timol had jumped from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square – now Johannesburg Central Police Station – while under interrogation.
But family, comrades and friends never believed Timol jumped. They believe he was either pushed out of the window by the police or thrown out after being tortured to death.
Erasmus said he witnessed how detainees were tortured. Administering electric shocks with a device was common practice; Erasmus said he witnessed how detainees’ testicles were shocked and “crushed”.
He described witnessing a detainee biting off half of his tongue after he was shocked.
The police mostly got away with detainees dying in detention, with the aid of the “resident sweepers”. The head of the sweepers was a Brigadier Grobler, who assisted security branch members to sweep evidence under the carpet.
“Very few police were charged for these deeds during my time,” Erasmus said.
He said magistrates, state psychologists and lawyers played along and ensured culprits escaped justice. This entailed hours of mock trials, which they rehearsed.
Erasmus said he was very much involved in the “dirty tricks” and distribution of disinformation during his time as a security policeman.
Dirty tricks ranged from emptying vials of a vile smelling substance called “Bokpoort” at venues belonging to the “enemy”, to conning Archbishop Desmond Tutu out of a “huge” donation.
He intercepted a letter to Tutu from a wealthy trust in the US, offering him money, and forged Tutu’s signature in a letter to the trust telling it not to bother him.
Erasmus said he was even “commended” by the security branch head for discrediting the ANC by influencing many British politicians and ultimately the British Prime Minister, John Major.
Erasmus also tried to fool the country into thinking that activist Neil Aggett, who also fell to his death from John Vorster Square, committed suicide.
He tried to gather dirt on Aggett to prove he was “a born suicide” case, but he failed.
He broke into Aggett’s parental house and was caught red-handed, but with the help of a lawyer and magistrate, got only a R200 fine for an “illegal search charge”. This was paid from “the secret fund”.
Erasmus’ evidence also included bugging advocate George Bizos’ phones, and plans to “take out” Bizos, as he was regarded as an enemy.
The inquest is expected to last two weeks.
A RETIRED advocate who practised in the 1970s and was present the day Ahmed Timol apparently fell out of a window at the notorious John Vorster Square in Joburg, testified how he saw a body “flying” past the window.
The elderly Ernie Matthis was the first witness to take the stand during the second leg of the reopening of the Timol inquest yesterday in the high court in Pretoria.
Matthis testified before Judge Billy Mothle that he was either on the fourth or the sixth floor of the building, preparing for a trial, when he suddenly saw a person falling, facing away from the building.
Matthis said he rushed to the window and looked out. The person landed near the street, with his one arm stretched out above his head. The person faced towards the motorway when he landed.
“I looked up, but I did not see an open window.”
Matthis said he saw no one when he looked up. He immediately phoned a friend – Harry Schwarz, head of the official opposition at the time – and told him what he had seen. “He told me this announcement would cause some consternation in government ranks.”
Matthis said he did not recall any police rushing to the scene nor did he notice an ambulance arriving while he was there.
Matthis said he had no idea at the time that it was Timol who had fallen out of the window. He only read about it in the media at a later stage.
“I had no idea at the time what had happened. The entire incident took about a minute,” he said.
FINGERING EVIL: Former SAP Security Branch member Paul Erasmus gestures during the Ahmed Timol inquest in the High Court in Pretoria yesterday.