News / South Africa

Ilse de Lange
3 minute read
10 Aug 2017
2:17 pm

New witnesses emerge in Timol inquest

Ilse de Lange

Some of the witnesses are scared, and it is important that the state treads carefully when consulting with them, says the NPA representative in the inquest.

A number of new witnesses have come forward and might testify in the reopened inquest into anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol’s death in police custody 46 years ago.

Dr Torie Pretorius, who represents the National Prosecuting Authority in the inquest, told Judge Billy Motlhe a number of witnesses had come forward and it was important to consult with them before possibly calling them as witnesses.

He said some of them were also scared, and it was important for the state to tread carefully when consulting with them.

Judge Motlhe made it clear the inquest was not an open-ended one and had to reach an end.

He said he would only be prepared to hear the evidence of members of the police or outsiders who were at the scene on October 27, 1971, when Timol died after falling out of a 10th-floor window at John Vorster Square in Johannesburg, which was then the security police’s headquarters.

Motlhe revealed that a number of witnesses had also contacted his registrar.

A magistrate ruled in the first inquest in the early 1970s that Timol had committed suicide, but the state agreed to reopen the inquest after his family uncovered new evidence suggesting he had been tortured and possibly murdered by the security police.

Several activists, including Dr Salim Essop, who was arrested with Timol, testified that they had been severely tortured by members of the security police. Essop was tortured almost to death and said he had every reason to believe that Timol – a member of the South African Communist Party and his senior – had been subjected to even worse torture.

Police clerk Jan Rodrigues, who was purportedly the last man to see Timol alive, testified that he had seen no injuries on Timol and that Timol had suddenly jumped up and dived out the window without saying a word.

Two forensic pathologists, who studied Timol’s postmortem report, testified that he had sustained numerous serious injuries, including head injuries and a dislocated ankle, which could not be attributed to his fall and would have made it impossible for him to have run and dived out of the window.

A second witness, Abdulla Adam, who worked at a filling station across from John Vorster Square at the time, yesterday testified that Timol had died in the morning, and not at about 4pm as the police witnesses suggested.

Adam said he specifically remembered he was on his tea break at about 10am that morning when his boss called him and informed him about a commotion across the street.

When he crossed the road, he saw a body lying in the bushes outside John Vorster Square, with one of Timol’s shoes pointing upwards. He and others who had gathered around the body were quickly chased away by the security police.

Forensic pathologists Dr Shakeera Holland and Prof Steve Naidoo, who were recalled by Judge Motlhe, both said in reports the exact time of Timol’s death could not be determined because there was not enough scientific information available.

Naidoo testified that a report by a doctor who examined Timol at John Vorster Square and declared that he had “recently died” was hopelessly inadequate. The pathologist who did the postmortem examination two days later also did not mention a time of death.

The inquest will resume on Monday.