Ro­drigues cross-ex­am­i­na­tion leaves Ti­mol judge with more ques­tions

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - ZELDA VEN­TER

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.

PIC­TURE: OUPA MOKOENA

Juan Ro­drigues at the High Court in Pre­to­ria dur­ing the Ahmed Ti­mol in­quest this week.

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