Former security policeman tells of Ahmed Timol’s last moments alive

Judge Billy Mothle presides over the inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol. (News24)
Judge Billy Mothle presides over the inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol. (News24)

Johannesburg – A former security branch police officer, said to have been the last person to see anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol alive, has described in detail Timol’s last seconds alive and how he tried his level best to save him before he allegedly jumped out of a window on the 10th floor at John Vorster Square.

“I saw him [Timol] open the window and dive. I had landed onto the ground and when I jumped up, I realised that Timol was not there anymore.

“I tried my best to stop him, I moved as fast as possible but I could not reach him before he was through the window,” said Joao Jan Rodrigues, 78.

Rodrigues was testifying on Monday, day 11 of the Ahmed Timol inquest, sitting at the North Gauteng High Court.

Timol’s death in October 1971 was ruled a suicide.

The policed told the initial inquest that Timol jumped out of a window on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg Central Police Station.

His family, however, has always maintained that Timol was killed by the security branch police.

With the help of a private investigator, who is believed to have new evidence, the National Prosecuting Authority allowed the inquest to be reopened.

After taking an oath, Mothle told Rodrigues, who had been supoenad to testify, that evidence had been presented to the court that he was the last person to see Timol alive.

“I need to inform you that at the end of this inquest, should I find that there has been some role that people have played, in particular you, that cause the death of Mr Timol, that may put you at risk of prosecution.”

The former sergeant, who joined the South African Police in February 1956, said on October 27, 1971, the day that Timol allegedly committed suicide, he was at John Vorster Square.

“On that day in question I received a call from officers Gloy and Van Niekerk at John Vorster Square. They asked me to bring them their salaries as well as a sealed envelope.”

Rodrigues thinks that he arrived at the building sometime that afternoon and went straight to the 10th floor.

“I went to an officer and asked him where I could find captains Gloy and Van Niekerk. The man told me to wait a bit because they were busy interrogating someone…”

Rodrigues waited while the officer went to ask and when the man returned he asked Rodrigues to follow him to the office where Gloy and Van Niekerk were.

“Before I entered the office there was someone in the passage with a tray with three cups of coffee. The person asked if I could take the coffees with me into the offices where Gloy and Van Niekerk were because he was not allowed in the office.”

Rodrigues took the tray with him and placed it on the table.

“I saw Gloy sitting on a chair with his back to the window and on his left-hand side…Van Niekerk was sitting on a chair. In front of Gloy, there was a man sitting, I did not know at the time who he was.”

Rodrigues said when he entered the office there was no interrogation taking place, instead there was absolute calm. He gave the men the envelope and their salaries as they had requested.

Rodrigues said he stood on the right side of the man that was in the office with the two officers.

He confirmed that it later emerged that Timol was the man sitting with Gloy and Van Niekerk.

Timol sat with the men drinking his coffee, he said.

Moments later Gloy asked Van Niekerk to accompany him outside and Gloy asked Rodrigues to guard Timol.

“I sat on Gloy’s chair by the window, opposite Timol. They left and told me they would not be long. Timol stared to one side of the room…

“A few minutes later Timol asked me to take him to the toilet. I thought it was a very reasonable request so I got up from my chair and he also. Then went to the left of the table and the chair which Van Niekerk was sitting on was half out of the table.

“I then pushed the chair back into the table and my eyes were looking onto the chair. At the same moment, I saw movement from the corner of my right eye, I looked up quickly and I saw that Timol was quickly on the other side of the table. It all happened in a split second.”

Rodrigues had to decide whether to follow Timol on the left hand side but the chair Timol was sitting on was going to be in the way.

“I then realised that I was not going to make it and quickly went to the other side of the table quickly. I wanted to stop Timol but my chair was in the way, I could not pass through. I went to where the chair was and lost my balance.

“I fell onto the ground and tumbled. On my way to Timol, I saw him opened the window and dived. I had landed on the ground and when I jumped up, I realised that Timol was not there anymore.

“So I got up, looked through the window and saw a body laying on the ground, far below. I tried my best to stop him, I moved as fast as possible but I could not reach him before he was through the window.”

After the incident, Rodrigues ran into the passage and screamed, “Tioml jumped.”

Rodrigues said people ran out of their offices to him and they all went straight to the window in room 1026.

“I ran out of the office and we all went to the ground floor to where the body was laying. There were police officers that surrounded the body, two people were checking for a pulse.

“The people checking for a pulse said there was still a slight heart beat in the body. Someone brought a blanket and rolled the body onto the blanket and carried in into a room on the ground floor.”

Rodrigues said he was immediately interrogated in room 1026 about what had happened and several officers came up to him and pressured him to lie in his statement.

“But no one took notes of what I was saying...”

After he made his statement, Rodrigues said some security branch police officers pressured him to lie in his statement. One officer told him to write that there had been a scuffle between him and Timol.

“I never touched Timol…I was not prepared to write what they wanted me to because I knew in the long run, there would be questions asked but I think they wanted me to protect their image.”

Rodrigues said there was a huge confrontation with the officers because he did not want to oblige.

Eventually, after the inquest in which he became a witness, Rodrigues resigned because he knew there was no prospect of getting promoted.

Sergeant Neville Els, 80, who also testified on Monday, proved to be a rather weak witness.

He, throughout his entire testimony struggled to recall the exact details of what had happened.

Els said on the day of the Timol and his comrade, Salim Essop’s arrest he was called to inspect the vehicle.

He found documents and reported them to a senior officer and that was the last time he dealt with the case.

Else told the court that he did not recall seeing detainees being tortured however he had read about it in the newspapers and some of his colleagues talked about it “casually.”  

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