Daughter of apartheid cop accused of Timol’s murder speaks out

Perched on a shelf at the entrance to Tilana Stander’s Cape Town home is the Afrikaans word for love — liefde — and wooden ornamental hearts tapped the wall gently in the summer breeze.

The peaceful home she shares with her husband Rikus is very far removed from her childhood home in Pretoria.

That was where she grew up as the daughter of Joao “Jan” Rodrigues, a member of apartheid’s feared Security Branch and the man who will stand trial in January for the murder of anti-apartheid activist and school teacher Ahmed Timol.

Timol was arrested in 1971 and the police in the room at the time, including Rodrigues, said the young teacher and activist from Roodepoort threw himself out of a window on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg police station.

Timol’s family refused to believe this and the National Prosecuting Authority held another inquest last year, overturning the 1972 finding that he died by suicide. Were it not for an email to the Ahmed Timol Foundation by Stander, he might not have been traced to answer questions about that fateful day on October 22 1971.

The developments in 79-year-old Rodrigues’ case offers hope to other families in a similar position to the Timols, that they might also get answers from other police officers who have created new lives for themselves.

Rodrigues had in the meantime, left the police and carved out a new career for himself as a prolific author of books about nature and wildlife, running a website promoting his work that has since been deactivated.

Stander says she has not spoken to her father for years, nor does she want to because of an extremely difficult childhood.

But when she read that the foundation was battling to track him down, she made up her mind and sent a simple message to their website.

“I said: ‘I’m the daughter. The man is still alive. He’s not dead as they say on television’,” Stander told News24.

“They were using the wrong name,” she said, adding that he now goes by the name Jan and his surname was spelt differently to what they had.

“It was no problem to me to give him over to Imtiaz,” she says, referring to Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Cajee who has campaigned relentlessly to find out what really happened to his uncle.

She said Cajee called her and said: “I can’t believe it! Seriously?”

“I want to help the Timol family get closure on this because that is what he owes them,” she said.

As a result of the new inquest, Rodrigues was expected to go on trial next year. Rodrigues will also apply for a permanent stay of prosecution but this process must be completed by the trial date of January 28 2019.

READ MORE: Families, justice minister, NPA challenge Rodrigues’ attempt to escape prosecution

Cajee told News24 that Stander’s contact with them was a “massive breakthrough”.

“Up to that particular point, we were totally in the dark. We thought he was dead, or he had left the country.”

For Cajee, the death of his uncle and another uncle going into exile during apartheid had a profound effect on his life.

“It has been a very long journey,” Cajee said of the family’s relentless pursuit of the truth.

He also hopes that other people who have recollections of that period — from police officers, to cleaners to administrative staff will also come forward to assist other families in the way they have been helped.

Stander said that although sending the email gave her a sense that she had done the right thing, she also “crashed”.

It opened a wound from a painful childhood that she says only started healing when she packed up and left home after writing her final exams at school.

For the “flower child who loved everybody”, home life was very difficult.

He father did not talk about his police work, she says.

“He would intimidate us a lot,” she says of herself and her six siblings. She does not talk to them anymore and says they think she is crazy.

“I tried so hard to get out of that house,” says Stander.

“He’s only biologically tied to me.”

READ MORE: Justice fundamental to dealing with the effects of mass trauma

She said she was horrified by apartheid and hated policemen in those days.

It took years of psychotherapy, self-care lessons and breathing exercises to leave those years behind.

“I am in a totally different space at the moment.”

When contacted for comment, Rodrigues said he did not want to discuss any of the issues raised.

“No I don’t want to talk about that stuff anymore.” — News 24

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Jenni Evans
Jenni Evans
Journalist at News24. Love reading, sunshine.
Advertisting

‘My biggest fear was getting the virus and dying in...

South African Wuhan evacuee speaks about his nine-week ordeal

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories