Former policeman says Timol jumped
THE apartheid-era police officer who was the last person to see anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol alive told an inquest in the high court in Pretoria yesterday of the intimidation and fear of physical harm he faced when he gave evidence in the initial inquest on how events had unfolded.
Former police sergeant in the then South African Police, Joao (Jan) Rodrigues, 78, told the ongoing inquest presided over by Judge Billy Mothle that he was coerced into saying what he claimed at the initial inquest in 1972, which found that Timol had committed suicide and which thus exonerated the police.
“At the time when I gave testimony in the magistrate’s court, I was coerced to say things which were not correct. That made me to be unsettled in relation to how events unfolded on that day in question. There were about four or five officers who coerced me to say things which were not true,” said Rodrigues, switching between English and Afrikaans.
“All the officers that wanted to influence me were also present during the proceedings (of the initial inquest). I was a junior to these officers. I felt intimidated because they influenced me to say things that were not true.”
The National Prosecuting Authority’s advocate Torie Pretorius asked Rodrigues to explain the influence which had come from the senior police officers.
“General Buys wanted me to testify to the effect that I had a fight with him (Timol) before he threw himself out of the window, which had never happened. There was no wrestling match. We never had a physical fight. I do not know why he wanted me to say that. I cannot speculate on that,” said Rodrigues.
“I did not tell the magistrate (at the initial inquest) because I was intimidated by all the four officers who were there. They were present at all times I gave evidence.”
Pretorius asked Rodrigues to tell the court what he feared would happen had he told the court then that he had been “pressured to tell a lie”.
“It was a very strong unit and they had a lot of influence in relation to this matter. They could have damaged my image. They could have caused me serious harm. It was possible that they could cause serious harm,” Rodrigues responded.
Judge Mothle asked Rodrigues to tell the court why he had not broken his silence on the intimidation for 45 years.
“After the hearing, since 1972 to this date, why have you not come forward to say you were intimidated, or there were attempts to intimidate you by these officers?” Mothle asked.
“I did not have the opportunity to come forward,” said Rodrigues.
Mothle pressed on, asking Rodrigues to explain what he meant by not having had the opportunity.
Rodrigues then responded: “I don’t know.”
The former sergeant told the court that he had only heard about incidents of torture but he had not witnessed any such instances, nor had he tortured anybody.
Rodrigues has told the inquest that he tried to save Timol, but he could not reach him before the activist dived out of a window from the 10th floor, committing suicide at the infamous John Vorster Square police station, now known as the Johannesburg Central police station, on September 27, 1971. Rodrigues insisted that he was moving towards Timol, hoping to stop him from jumping out of the window, but fell over a chair, and by the time he got up, the detainee had already jumped.
Magistrate JL de Villiers ruled in June 1972 that Timol had committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor, a ruling which has been contested by the activist’s family and associates for decades.– ANA
INTERROGATION CHAMBER: The room from which Ahmed Timol fell to his death. The picture was taken 46 years ago.
INTIMIDATED: Joao Rodrigues in court during the Ahmed Timol inquest.