“ TIMOL INQUEST IS TIPPING POINT FOR POSSIBLE TIDE OF PROSECUTIONS”
Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) 6 August 2017
ALL the apartheid security branch policemen guilty of torturing detainees to death who thought they could disappear into the woodwork and never admit their crimes better think again. The Timol inquest has unlocked a web of conspiracy among the former security police, who are as tight as a secret society. Judge Billy Mothle’s subpoena to former John Vorster Square policemen, Joao Rodrigues and Neville Els, shows justice can still be pursued in these cases.
The Timol family was told for years that Rodrigues was living outside the country. But then a source informed the inquest lawyers he was in a small town in South Africa.
The re-opening of the Timol inquest after 46 years has given hope to many other families whose loved ones also died in detention. The SA Human Rights Commission is already fielding calls from their families. They are now pursuing ways to bring enough evidence to the fore so the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) might consider prosecuting the cases. There just needs to be enough unity of purpose between politicians, the NPA, civil society and the SAHRC to make it happen.
A total of 89 detainees died in detention between 1963 and 1990. The prospective cases include that of Dr Neil Aggett, who died in John Vorster Square in 1982. The state claimed he hanged himself. Aggett’s main interrogator, Steven Whitehead, is still alive. Babla Saloojee died in custody in 1964 in the security police headquarters known as Gray’s building. The police said he jumped to his death and the state claimed it was suicide. Matthews Mabalena died in John Vorster Square in 1977. The state said he “accidentally” fell from the 10th floor.
One of the most ludicrous explanations involves Nicodemus Kgoathe, whom the state said died from natural causes – bronchial pneumonia – after slipping in the shower in 1969. The Foundation for Equality before the Law, whose objective is to ensure former security policeman who never applied for amnesty are not prosecuted, must be working overtime. It cannot afford to have former security policemen like Els and Rodrigues break ranks and give an inch. To men like JP Botha, who runs the foundation, the security police were operating in “a time of war” and many were just “following orders”, as we have heard from the Nazis in the Nuremberg trials after World War II.
In sticking to his original story at the 1971 inquest, Rodrigues portrayed a version of events so highly improbable that Judge Mothle gave him a last chance to recant before leaving the stand. Judge Mothle told Rodrigues he had a number of issues with his testimony. They included:
Why was it that both Els and Rodrigues claimed not to have known about the assault of detainees and both made the identical claim that they only heard about it in the media?
If Rodrigues had been instructed to guard Timol, a “valuable detainee” and he failed to stop him diving out of the window, why was there no disciplinary inquiry?
According to Rodrigues’s testimony, General Buys had instructed him on what to include in his affidavit. This type of interference resulted in a pattern of statements common to Rodrigues, Timol’s torturers, captains Johannes Gloy and Fanie van Niekerk and another interrogator, Richard Bean. The statements were: “I never assaulted anyone” and “detainees were never assaulted in my presence”.
Dr Scheepers, the pathologist who did the autopsy in 1971, found a number of injuries on Timol’s body not consistent with a long fall. So did medical doctors at the time. But Rodrigues claims not to have seen any injuries when he sat with him in room 1026. One of these injuries was to his left foot, which would have made it impossible for him to rush to the window, as Rodrigues claimed. Had he dived out of the window, as Rodrigues claimed, he would have landed much further away from the building, according to the testimony of a trajectory expert.
The only individuals in the original inquest who back Rodrigues’s version were Timol’s interrogators, Gloy, Van Niekerk and Colonel Greyling, who are implicated in at least 13 known cases of assault on detainees.
Rodrigues, who was a clerk, was given a commendation by the Commissioner of Police after the inquest – an honour usually reserved for those who have really distinguished themselves.
Rodrigues did not provide any satisfactory answers. Captains Gloy and Van Niekerk, Timol’s main interrogators, have died and did not testify before the TRC.
The inquest also heard this week from Muhammed Ali Thoken, who had been across the road from John Vorster Square when Timol died on October 27, 1971.
Thoken testified it was midmorning when he heard a thud and a pedestrian told him a man had fallen from the building. This was a key piece of evidence as the police's story has always been that Timol fell at about 4pm.
Closing arguments will be heard later in August. On Friday, Judge Mothle called on any member of the public who could assist in the inquest to contact the Timol family's lawyers at Webber Wentzel.
Advocate Howard Varney, for the Timol family, told the judge the family would like to see Rodrigues charged with perjury and as an accessory to murder or murder.