Uncovering the truth about Timol’s murder

Below is an edited extract from The Murder of Ahmed Timol – My Search for the Truth by Imtiaz A. Cajee- The first inquest

The Ahmed Timol Inquest (2361/71) began at the Johannesburg Magistrate Court on 24 April 1972 and lasted two months. The legal team representing the Timol family included Cachalia and Loonat who appointed Advocate George Bizos and Advocate Issy Aaron Maisels to argue on the family’s behalf, and Dr Jonathan Gluckman was appointed as the pathologist. The police were defended by Advocate S.A. Cilliers; Senior Public Prosecutor P.A.J. Kotze and Magistrate J.J.L. de Villiers presided.

What we know about the first inquest is limited to that part of the court records that still exists. Only 504 of the 1 157 pages have survived – less than half of the full record. This comprises the last part of the record, including the 77-page judgment. Significantly, some of the missing elements include the oral evidence of the police witnesses and certain photographs and other exhibits.

A page is also missing from the sworn statement of Sergeant Jan Rodrigues, who is the last person to have seen my uncle alive. A crucial part of his version of what happened when Ahmed Timol fell from the building has disappeared.

On the first day of the inquest, Magistrate de Villiers ruled against the family’s request for a copy of all the documentation. They only received the paperwork when Maisels took the matter on appeal to the Supreme Court which ruled in his favour.

Lt Colonel Willem Petrus van Wyk, who had assisted with the Rivonia Trial and the case against Bram Fischer, testified that at around 3 am on 23 October 1971 he arrived at the office of Captain Dirker in John Vorster Square where Timol was being held. This was Room 1026, a small office that measured 2.5–3 x 4 m.174 Van Wyk said that he did not see any obvious injuries on Timol, but that he had not carried out a thorough inspection.

Captains Johannes Hendrik ‘Hans’ Gloy and Johannes Zacharias van Niekerk both testified that they had interrogated Timol from 6 am to 7 pm on 23 October 1971; on 24 October 1971 from 8 am to 8 pm, and then again on 27 October 1971 from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm. He was free of injuries or wounds, they said, when they took over from Lieutenant Colonel van Wyk at 6 am on 23 October 1971 and also on the morning of 27 October 1971.

Sergeants Louw and Bouwer guarded the prisoner during the nights of 23 October 1971, 24 October 1971, 25 October 1971and 26 October 1971. They testified that he was not questioned at night and that his sleep was not interrupted and he was taken to the bathroom and toilet when necessary. They said he had used his arms freely when he washed, and could remove his shirt himself. He was given water to drink when he asked for it. They told the court that as it was hot, my uncle had slept in his underwear without a top. They saw his bare torso on several occasions, in good light, but had never seen any marks or injuries on him before he died on Wednesday, 27 October.

Bouwer testified that he did not examine Timol’s legs nor did he pay attention to them. He said the detainee rested well and had slept peacefully on a mattress with blankets. His interrogators had hardly conversed with him, except when he wanted to play the card game, Five Card, with them.

Captain Richard Bean participated in Ahmed Timol’s interrogation with Van Wyk between 8.30 am and 7.30 pm on 25 October 1971 and again on 26 October 1971 from 8.30 am to 8 pm. He also testified that he had not seen any injuries on my uncle and said that he had made no complaints.

Addressing the question of the ante mortem wounds and injuries on his body, Magistrate de Villiers said there was no reason why he would have been assaulted by any member of the police during his detention. His arrest was ‘accidental’ and he had proved to be a valuable source of information. Gloyand Van Niekerk testified that they wanted to win his trust and did not want to antagonise him by being unfriendly or by assaulting him.

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