News / South Africa

Ilse de Lange
2 minute read
24 Jul 2017
2:31 pm

Timol inquest hears of body falling

Ilse de Lange

Ernie Matthis, a former state prosecutor testified that he was looking out of the window by chance when he saw a body falling past the window.

Apartheid activist Ahmed Timol who died while in detention 45 years ago. Picture: Facebook

An elderly retired state prosecutor has told the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol how he had seen Timol falling past his window “horizontally”.

Ernie Matthis, a former state prosecutor, testified before Judge Billy Mothle in a new inquest into Timol’s death which resumed in the High Court in Pretoria today.

Matthis testified that he was working on the prosecution of a case at John Vorster Square in Johannesburg in October 1971 and was looking out of the window by chance when he saw a body falling past the window.

When he rushed to the window, he saw a man lying prone about 1.5 meters from the curb with one of his arms above his head.

Matthis looked up momentarily, but saw no open window. He also did not see anyone on the roof above him.

“I didn’t rush down. I phoned Harry Schwartz (then the opposition leader in Parliament under the apartheid government) and told him what I saw…. His response was utter amazement. Schwartz said there was quite a response in Parliament,” he said.

Matthis only found out that it was Timol who had died after reading about it in the newspapers the next day.

He was never asked to make a statement and was also not asked to testify at the first inquest into Timol’s death.

Timol’s family, who believe he was either pushed or thrown out of the window after being tortured by the apartheid security police, have been fighting for years for a new inquest.

The police at the time claimed his death was guided by a document of the Communist Party – of which Timol was a member – that encouraged activists to commit suicide rather than betray their comrades.

Magistrate JL de Villiers ruled during an inquest in 1972 that Timol had committed suicide by jumping out of a 10th floor window at John Vorster Square – now known as the Johannesburg Central police station.

Timol’s brother Mohammed earlier testified how he had been tortured for information about his brother and could not even attend his funeral. He died the existence of the so-called Communist Party document advocating suicide.

Paul Erasmus, a former member of the police’s Security Branch who was based at John Vorster Square for 17 years, testified that torture was a routine part of the police’s interrogation of activities at John Vorster square.

Erasmus was discharged on medical grounds due to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in 1993, but testified that the real reason was finding out about threats to wipe out him and his family.

The inquest continues.