Rodrigues cross-examination leaves Timol judge with more questions
FORMER security police agent Juan Rodrigues – the last man said to be present when Ahmed Timol fell to his death 46 years ago – left the witness box smiling this week.
This was after three gruelling days of giving evidence and being grilled under cross-examination. His smile remained even after he was told the Timol family wanted him to face criminal charges for his involvement in the anti-apartheid activist’s death.
Mohammed Timol said that the family were not out for Rodrigues’s blood. “All I wanted was the truth about my brother’s death but he persisted in lying to the court. We have no choice but to take the matter further,” he said.
Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, Judge Billy Mothle threw Rodrigues a lifeline after he had concluded his evidence.
“There are serious questions raised by your version,” the judge told the 78-year-old. He reminded Rodrigues that he had been warned at the start of his evidence to tell the truth or face possible prosecution regarding Timol’s death. The judge made it clear that he had difficulties with Rodrigues’ version.
“You came here and repeated what you said during the inquest in 1972. Certain of these issues bother me,” the judge said.
He questioned whose evidence he had to accept – that of expert witnesses or that of Rodrigues.
One of the difficulties he had was that Rodrigues had stuck to his guns that Timol had “jumped” or “dived” out of the window of room 1026, while an expert testified given the position of the body, it was impossible he had jumped. It was more likely that he was pushed.
In spite of all this, Rodrigues stuck to his guns that Timol “dived” out of the win- dow. “I cannot change the truth. What I said in my statement 46 years ago is the truth, the whole truth and the only truth,” Rodrigues said.
Various doctors also testified Timol had suffered a host of pre-fall injuries, many visible facial injuries – of which Rodrigues claimed he had seen nothing.
Rodrigues was told all fingers pointed to the conclusion that he collaborated with members of the former security branch to cover-up the “murder” of Timol, by making it look like suicide.
Howard Varney, for the Timol family, said the “fabrica- tion” of evidence had been done to cover-up the fact that Timol had been severely tortured and subsequently injured while he was being interrogated
He told Rodrigues that he had agreed to be the “fall guy” so his interrogators, Captains Hans Gloy and Johannes van Niekerk and “perhaps others”, had nothing to answer to.
Startling evidence that Timol fell to his death during the mid-morning was also heard for the first time this week when a witness who was at a petrol station that day, said he’d heard Timol falling to the ground.
Muhammed Ali Thokan said he definitely did not make a mistake that it had been mid-morning. For 46 years it has been believed Timol fell late in the afternoon, around 4pm.
This was one of the reasons the inquest did not conclude yesterday. Judge Mothle wanted to recall two of the medical experts to shed more light on the time of death in the light of the new evidence.
Two further “critically important” witnesses will be called. One is a reluctant witness who is said to have been evading a subpoena being served on him. The man, Adam Ahmed, worked at the garage across the road from John Vorster Square at the time and could also shed light on the time of day when Timol fell.
The other is former Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigator Piers Pigou, who probed the Timol case for the TRC. New evidence had emerged relating to contact he had made with Rodrigues during the TRC, the court was told.
The judge called on Rodrigues to be at court on Friday to possibly take the stand again.
Judge Mothle called on anyone who had been around John Vorster Square at the time and perhaps saw something relating to Timol’s death, to come forward. The inquest will resume on Thursday and close oral arguments on Friday. Final arguments will be heard on August 17 and 18.
Dr Saleen Essop, a close friend of Timol who was arrested alongside him in 1971, identified some of the security branch officers who had interrogated and tortured him at the time.
He spoke in the hopes that identifying these people might bring some closure. He had been so severely tortured at the time he was taken to hospital in a comatose state the day before Timol died.
Essop looked through a host of pictures and identified some of the officers. These included then members of the Security Branch, captains Hans Gloy and Faan van Niekerk.
These were the same officers Rodrigues said had been in the office with Timol when he arrived in room 1026 and who were responsible for interrogating Timol prior to his arrival. Rodrigues testi- fied they left Timol alone in the room before he allegedly jumped.
Rodrigues said policeman were who had tried to intimidate him into altering his statement regarding the events leading to Timol’s death. He could not remember what they wanted him to say, but said then-general Stoffel Buys, the investigator, had intimidated him into saying he and Timol had a physical altercation shortly before Timol fell.
Both former officers have since died. Essop, after identifying the pictures of his torturers, said it had been difficult to do so. “It brings back memories and created a lot of emotions for me. I am not sure whether this will bring closure for me, although I want to see everyone move on, as apartheid has ended,” he said.
Essop stated that he would never forget what happened to him and he was unsure about forgiving those who wronged him.
Juan Rodrigues at the High Court in Pretoria during the Ahmed Timol inquest this week.