Johannesburg – Former security branch officer sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues faced aggressive cross examination at the Ahmed Timol inquest being heard at the North Gauteng High Court on Tuesday.
On Monday the 78-year-old took the stand and told the court of how he tried his level best to try and stop Timol from jumping out of a window on the 10th floor of the John Vorster Square building.
Rodrigues on Monday told the court that a Captain Gloy and Captain Van Niekerk had summoned him to John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg Central Police Station, on 27 October 1971.
He said he walked into room 1026 on the 10th floor and found the two officers sitting with a man that was unknown to him.
While he was in the office a stranger walked in saying that three more people had been arrested linked to Timol.
The man left and then Gloy and Van Niekerk followed asking Rodrigues to guard Timol.
Rodrigues said, “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 told the court that he got up and looked out the window and saw Timol’s body on the ground. He ran out of the office into the passage screaming, “Timol jumped.”
His colleagues later all went down to where the body landed and it was later rolled onto a blanket and placed in a room in the building.
On Tuesday, Rodrigues cut a different figure, presenting new evidence that he had not presented to Magistrate De Villiers during the initial inquest in 1972.
The inquest had ruled that Timol’s death was a suicide.
However, his family has always believed that Timol was killed by the security branch police while he was in detention. The family requested that the inquest be reopened and the National Prosecuting Authority agreed.
Cross examining Rodrigues, state prosecutor advocate Torie Pretorius asked Rodrigues if he was comfortable giving evidence before the court in 1972.
“Not at all…At the time when I gave testimony at the magistrate’s court, I was coerced to say things that were not correct in the statement and that made me be unsettled in relation to how the events unfolded on the day in question.”
Rodrigues said he felt uncomfortable because about four police officers wanted him to change his statement. The officers that wanted to influence Rodrigues were in court while Rodrigues testified in court.
“I felt intimidated because they influenced me to say things that were not true. I cannot remember everything but General Buys wanted me to testify that I had a fight with Timol before he threw himself out of the window.
He wanted me to say we wrestled but that was not true.”
Judge Billy Mothle asked Rodrigues if he told the magistrate that he was intimidated, “No, I did not because I was very intimidated by all the four officers there. They were always there when I testified,” he said.
Rodrigues said the unit had a lot of influence and he believed that if he told the magistrate that he was pressured to lie, they could have caused him harm.
Judge Mothle asked Rodrigues why after 46 years, he had not come forward to say that he had been intimidated.
“I did not have the opportunity to come forward. You had 46 years to come forward to say this, why have you not done so?”
“I don’t know,” said Rodrigues.
Judge Mothle asked Rodrigues if he saw any injuries on Timol’s face or on the body and Rodrigues said he did not see any injuries sustained on Timol’s body.
‘I didn’t torture anybody’
Rodrigues told the court that he had heard that detainees had been tortured but he had never seen it nor had he tortured detainees.
“I personally did not torture anybody.”
Prestoius poked holes at Rodrigues’ testimony.
“I put it to you that you could not reach him is in direct contradiction from your previous testimony when you said you read out for him and missed him just.”
Rodrigues said it was possible because it was 46 years ago and he might have tried to stretch his hand and tried to reach him.
He said he did not participate in the interrogation of Timol nor did he speak to him.
Prestoius asked Rodrigues how did he know Timol’s name.
“You did not get introduced to him, how did you know the name?”
Rodrigues said Gloy told him that “this was Timol”.
Pretorius told Rodrigues that he was presenting me evidence to the court because that statement was not part of his evidence in chief presented on Monday.
Judge Billy Mothle told the court that he too was hearing that Rodrigues was told that the detainee was Timol.
Mothle told Rodrigues that he was giving evidence which he did not give to the magistrate during the initial inquest.
Rodrigues at times struggled to recall some of the details.
When asked about the three cups of coffee and the impression that detainees drank coffee, Rodrigues said he took the coffee into the office as requested.
“The three of them drank the coffee.”
When asked about injuries on Timol’s body, Rodrigues maintained that he did not see any injuries.
Pretorius told Rodrigues that it was highly improbable that a big strong man like him could not stop Timol.
“I’m describing it as best as I can,” replied Rodrigues.
At time Prestorius told Rodrigues that he was contradicting himself.
Pretorius said it was completely improbable that Timol gave Rodrigues head start by asking to go to the toilet.
Pretorius said Rodrigues did not want to play open cards with the court.
Advocate Howard Varney after questioning Rodrigues about Timol’s injuries as stated in the post mortem report, told him that he thought Varney says Rodrigues has fabricated a version that is false.
The inquest continues.