A former security policeman who was involved in searching anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol’s car after his arrest 46 years ago has denied any involvement in questioning or torturing him.
Neville Els, 82, a former security policeman and explosives expert who was stationed at John Vorster Square in Johannesburg, testified he had been called to search Timol’s car after his arrest in October 1971.
On finding a box with “subversive” pamphlets in the car, he informed a senior officer of the security branch, Captain CJ Dirker, who took the matter from there and had no further involvement in the matter, he said.
Els, who was the senior security police official on duty on the day of Timol’s death, said he was only called to assist with identifying certain objects. He said Timol and Salim Essop, who were arrested together, might have been present, but he could not recall seeing them.
He testified in the reopened inquest into Timol’s death, to which the state agreed after being provided with new evidence following a further investigation by Timol’s family.
A magistrate found at an inquest in 1972 that Timol had committed suicide by jumping from a 10th-floor window at John Vorster Square, but his family believe he was tortured and then either pushed or thrown out of the window.
He would not comment on his thoughts about the police version that Timol had committed suicide, but conceded it “did not sound right” that Timol would have been left alone with a pay clerk before his fall.
Els admitted to being involved in the interrogation of detainees, including Prof Kantilal Naik, but flatly denied ever torturing anyone or ever seeing any person being tortured, injured or in distress at John Vorster square.
Several anti-apartheid activists who were detained in the same time as Timol have testified in detail about the severe torture they had experienced at the hands of the security police.
Essop’s father obtained an urgent court interdict for his son’s release after he landed up in hospital in a coma. Two judges at the time rejected the police version that he was not touched and found that he had in fact been tortured.
Essop and Prof Naik both testified about the severe torture they had endured at the hands of the security police.
To questions by Judge Billy Mothle, Els admitted he and his colleagues may have talked about torture “casually”. He said it was “general knowledge” that torture did happen and he had read about it in the newspapers, but was not aware of specific details.
He admitted to making detainees stand for up to two hours at a time, but denied that this was a form of torture.
He said the point of interrogation was to get information as soon as possible, and he would have questioned a detainee for up to eight hours at a time.
He did not feel that sleep deprivation was a form of torture, but conceded that keeping someone awake for up to five days at a time would have amounted to torture and that evidence obtained in such a manner would have been of no value.
The inquest continues.