Ti­mol in­quest told of tricks and tor­ture

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - ZELDA VEN­TER

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.

PIC­TURE: THOBILE MATHONSI

FINGERING EVIL: For­mer SAP Se­cu­rity Branch mem­ber Paul Eras­mus ges­tures dur­ing the Ahmed Ti­mol in­quest in the High Court in Pre­to­ria yes­ter­day.

Ernie Matthis

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