NPA opening docket to charge Timol murder accused

Former sergeant in the apartheid regime's security branch Joao Rodrigues. (Photo: Anthony Schultz/M&G)

Former sergeant in the apartheid regime's security branch Joao Rodrigues. (Photo: Anthony Schultz/M&G)

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has confirmed it is opening a docket to bring charges of murder, accessory to murder and perjury against former apartheid Security Branch policeman Joao Rodrigues for the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol.

It is set to be the first prosecution of its kind for the death in detention of an anti-apartheid activist. 

The NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku also confirmed that dockets would be opened against two other Security Branch policemen: Neville Els and Seth Sons. Both testified at the inquest into Timol’s death earlier this year at the Pretoria high court.

In his judgement earlier this month, Judge Billy Mothle overturned a previous judgement made in 1972 that determined Timol, an ANC and South African Communist Party member, had committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square (now Johannesburg central police station).

Mothle found Timol was “pushed” from a window of the 10th floor of the police station or from its roof. 

“Timol died as a result of having being pushed to fall, an act which was committed by members of the Security Branch with dolus eventualis as the form of intent, and prima facie amounting to murder,” Mothle said in his judgement. 

Rodrigues is the man who is believed to have been with Timol in the final moments leading up to his death and the last person to see him alive.

Mothle recommended that Rodrigues be prosecuted for murder and accessory to murder because he helped orchestrate a version that Timol committed suicide to the 1972 inquest.

Mothle also recommended that Rodrigues, Sons and Els be prosecuted for perjury after he found that their testimony at the 2017 inquest was dishonest. All three said that they had never seen or heard of torture from security police. Rodrigues maintained Timol had killed himself. But Mothle found that Timol was indeed tortured.

“Mounting pressure” on NPA to prosecute

Imtiaz Cajee, Timol’s nephew who has been responsible for reopening the inquest into his uncle’s death, says that he has been “mounting pressure” on the NPA to prosecute the three Security Branch policemen after the judgement was made.

Cajee told the Mail & Guardian that he sent a letter to Advocate Torie Pretorius, who is in charge of the NPA’s unit that deals with crimes related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Cajee sent the formal correspondence on October 19 and Pretorius, who also represented the NPA at the Timol inquest, responded on October 24.

In his response, Pretorius wrote to Cajee: “I can confirm that this office immediately instructed the South African Police, DPCI [the Hawks], to open 3 dockets in the regard to the findings of the honourable Judge Mothle”.

Cajee said that he felt it necessary to apply pressure on the NPA because, as he says: “They’re not going to move on their own”.

The Timol family had previously written to the NPA to reopen the inquest into Ahmed’s death in 2003. But the NPA denied them, saying the case was cold. At that time, other security policemen who were accused of torturing Timol - such as Johannes Van Niekerk, Johannes Gloy, and Stoffel Buys (who led the investigation immediately after Timol’s death) - were still alive.

The only remaining known policeman believed to be in contact with Timol who is still alive is Rodrigues.

Relief and vindication

Cajee says that what the family has so far achieved in ensuring charges are laid against security cops 46 years after Timol died has brought relief to them and hope to other families of apartheid victims. The family has also been “vindicated”, he said, after Mothle overturned the apartheid-era judgement on Timol’s death.

“Reality is sinking in that we’ve accomplished something that will give a lot of other families hope,” he said.

“My uncle was only one victim and every time we speak of him we make sure we reference the others,” he said.

There are 72 other known activists who died in detention during apartheid. Their families have yet to uncover what happened to their loved ones. 

October 27, this Friday, will officially mark 46 years since Timol’s death. Cajee said that while commemorations are important, there must be more urgency from the South African government to find the truth of what happened to anti-apartheid activists whose deaths are believed to have been covered-up by the apartheid state.

“In a South African context, it’s the state that is not looking for what transpired. Why was this issue not pursued at the TRC when all the policemen were alive?,” he said of the investigation into his uncle’s death.

Cajee still sees the 2017 inquest as a “missed opportunity” because the three security cops (Els, Sons and Rodrigues) didn’t reveal the details of how his uncle died.

“We still don’t know what transpired, but those three know what happened,” he said.

The Timol family decided to ask Judge Mothle to recommend that the three security policemen be charged after they stuck to their version that there was no torture and Timol committed suicide. Previously, the family had said it only seeks the truth and not retribution. 

Mfaku could not say when the dockets would be complete. The Timol family will release a statement later this evening.

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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