Ahmed Timol inquest taken back to 1971 during inspection in loco
28 June 2017
Johannesburg – Struggle icon Salim Essop on Tuesday took the court back to 1971 when he relived his experience of being detained at John Voster Square on Commissioner Street.
The building, now the Johannesburg Central Police Station, is the same building where his friend, anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, fell ten storeys to his death.
On the second day of the inquiry looking into Timol’s death, the High Court in Johannesburg conducted an inspection in loco at the police station, where detainees were allegedly tortured and allegedly mysteriously died in custody in the hands of the apartheid police.
Timol’s death was ruled a suicide in 1972. However, a private investigation launched by Timol's family uncovered new evidence, which it presented to the National Prosecuting Authority, asking for the inquest to be reopened. The NPA agreed to reopen the inquest.
Proceedings began at the High Court in Johannesburg on Monday.
When the media arrived at the police station, the family’s attorney Howard Varney showed the media the spot where it was believed Timol's body landed after allegedly committing suicide.
The media entered the building and it was Essop, who testified on Monday, that dominated the visit, showing and leading the delegation through the corridors and some of the important rooms where the torture allegedly took place.
He re-enacted a scene from his testimony where he recalled seeing two policemen holding a man he believed was Timol.
With two legal officials holding onto Essop, he proceeded to show Judge Billy Mothle that the man he saw appeared to not have enough strength to walk on his own.
The delegation was also led to room 1026 where it is said Timol took his life.
Essop read out the police statement and told Mothle he believed it would have been impossible for Timol to commit suicide because he was in the presence of another officer.
“According to the police, at 3:48pm, Captain Cloyd and Van Niekerk, who also interrogated me [Essop], left the room. Roderick and Timol remained behind.
“Timol asked to go to the toilet and stood up with Roderick at the same time, Roderick moved to the left…Timol rushed to the window…”
Essop said there were questions surrounding how Timol got to the window.
“Because of the latch this window swings a certain amount, if you open it, it swings not even 90 degrees… it is also alleged that the window was closed when Timol rushed, from what we can gather, he rushed passed Roderick.”
Mothle had to caution Essop often not to speculate on what happened.
Essop said, “Apparently he opened the window, the distance from the ground to the window is about a metre, above the trousers, they say that he dived out. I could not see how he dived out with the window closed, he has got to open the window first.”
He also showed the court the vault where he testified that he was tortured by the police.
“This room, because of its present content, it looks smaller but if you remove all the content, it would be larger…”
A tour was also taken to the toilet where he went to look at his face after allegedly being brutally beaten by the police.
“This is where I also washed,” he said pointing at the basin.
Over 50 interrogators
There were times where Essop did not recognise some of the newly developed areas in the building.
He pointed out that he was never brought to the area near room 1026.
The delegation ended the inspection at the roof of the building.
During cross examination in court earlier, Essop held his own.
He stood by what he said on Monday, reiterating that he, without a doubt, still believes that Timol was killed by the apartheid security police.
Essop told the court that he was tortured by the police for about four days.
"There were teams. I counted more than 50 interrogators who came in at different times. I was never alone."
He said he would be able to identify some of the policemen who assaulted him.
Mothle said it was important the process be conducted similar to an identity parade.
Varney asked Essop if he had the physical capacity to commit suicide.
Essop said, "I see myself as a survivor, if anyone tried to kill me, I would try prevent that."
He said he was a mentally fit person, however, after all the brutal torture that he had gone through, he accepted that his death would be caused by the police.
Essop also thought that, like him, Timol did not have the desire to take his own life.
“He loved life, like me.”
Essop told the court that he suffered emotional trauma because of the severe torture, to the extent that he received counselling.
He said he recovered from the psychological trauma because he had the will to love.
When he started Tuesday’s proceedings Mothle said he had been made aware that there was a member of the public who was in court on Monday, who claimed that his brother was also killed at John Vorster Square in 1976.
The man allegedly came because he too did not believe that his brother committed suicide but was killed by the security police.
Mothle said the man’s claims needed to be investigated as they could play a crucial role in the inquest.
Once Essop had concluded his testimony Mothle thanked him for testifying, saying he knew that it must have been difficult for him to relive the past.
"Your evidence in this inquest is very important and I believe it will help us… I am sorry for what you have gone through,” he said.
Human rights lawyer George Bizos is expected to take the stand on Wednesday.
The hearings continue this week and then resume between July 24 and August 4, and August 10 and 11.