Retired police officer Paul Erasmus. Picture: Zelda Venter

Pretoria – A retired security police officer on Monday told the Ahmed Timol inquest how torture was used at the John Vorster Square police station to silence people who posed a threat to the apartheid State.

Paul Erasmus worked at the notorious police station in Johannesburg for 17 years, and was responsible for spreading lies about the African National Congress.

He told the North Gauteng High Court the security branch's actions were approved by many high-ranking government officials, including former ministers, police commissioners, state pathologists, lawyers and even some magistrates.

He testified about the “evil” which occurred on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square and about the many tortures which occurred in the “truth room - room 1026”.

Erasmus was testifying on Monday during the second leg of the reopening of the Ahmed Timol inquest.

Mohammad, younger brother of Ahmed Timol, testified that he was in prison when he heard about Timol’s death and was not allowed to attend his funeral.

Timol’s family reopened the inquest to counter the original inquiry’s findings in June 1972, headed by magistrate JL de Villiers, which stated that the activist had committed suicide by jumping out of the 10th storey of John Vorster Square police station.

The station gained infamy during the apartheid years for the torture and deaths of scores of activists, who opposed the regime. It is now known as the Johannesburg Central police station.

The elderly Erasmus said they had the ability to forge anything that they wanted including documents and letters.  At one stage he forged the signature of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Erasmus told the court that during the apartheid era torturing detainees was standard procedure.

Professor Kantilal Naik in court during the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol.

He further explained that when torturing detainees, they had to capitalise on their fears and make them believe that they had sole control of their lives.

"The interrogation tactics worked to break you...What detainees feared most  important, like spiders or snakes would be used to get confessions...We would be roped in to keep detainees awake, sleep deprivation was the basis of interrogation," Erasmus explained.

Erasmus said to evade the law, they had a "sweeper" who would ensure they escaped justice and protect their integrity if they had been accused of torture or murder.

Erasmus previously applied for amnesty during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing.

Earlier, Ernie Matthis, a retired advocate who was present the day Ahmed Timol fell out of a window at John Vorster Square testified how he saw a body “ flying ” past the window.

Matthis, who practised in the 1970s, testified before Judge Billy Mothle that he was either on the fourth or the sixth floor of the building preparing for a trial, when he suddenly saw a person falling, facing away from the building.

Matthis said he rushed to the window and looked out. The person landed near the street, with his one arm stretch out above his head. The person faced towards the motorway when he had landed.

“I looked up, but I did not see an open window.” Matthis said he, in fact, saw no one when he looked up.

He immediately phoned a friend who was a member of Parliament and told him what he had seen. 

“He told me this announcement will cause some consternation in government ranks.” 

Matthis said he does not recall any police rushing to the scene, nor did he notice the ambulance arriving while he was there.

Matthis said he had no idea at the time that it was Ahmed Timol who had fallen out of the window. He only read about it in the media at a later stage.

The matter was adjourned to Tuesday.

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