Timol family granted access to oppose apartheid cop’s attempt to ‘escape justice’

The Timol family will now face pressure to prevent Rodrigues from being successful in his bid to halt the trial, as other families of victims who died under similar circumstances watch the case unfold. (Anthony Schultz/M&G)

The Timol family will now face pressure to prevent Rodrigues from being successful in his bid to halt the trial, as other families of victims who died under similar circumstances watch the case unfold. (Anthony Schultz/M&G)

The former Security Branch clerk accused of murdering anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol will now once again face the Timol family in court as he seeks to permanently halt his prosecution.

Joao Rodrigues was not in court on Wednesday when Judge Ramarumo Monama allowed the Timol family to intervene in his application to stop the prosecution. Rodrigues applied to the court to halt the prosecution on grounds that he is too old to stand trial and many witnesses have died in the 47 years since Timol was murdered.

But Howard Varney, the advocate for the Timol family, said that the family — as victims of the accused’s conduct — has a right to be heard.
In court papers, the family said that Rodrigues could not be allowed to “escape justice”.

“Against all odds, the Timol family ... have waged a tireless campaign over decades seeking truth, seeking justice,” Varney said.

The Timol family was not cited in Rodrigues’ court papers because the matter is now being dealt with by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). In court, Monama asked if the Timol family trusted the NPA to protect them given the history between the two. The NPA initially refused to investigate the Timol case in 2002 and only instituted a prosecution after the Timol family hired a private investigator and brought new evidence.

Varney told Monama that the onus has been on victims of apartheid to seek justice, rather than on the NPA to fulfil its mandate.

“Sadly, we are finding that families of anti-apartheid victims have to move heaven and earth,” Varney said.

The NPA has denied in court papers that it failed to timeously find the perpetrators in Timol’s death.

Anwar Jessop, a lawyer representing the family of Hoosen Haffejee, also submitted to the court that his clients should be allowed to have a say in Rodrigues’ application to stop the prosecution. Haffejee died in detention in KwaZulu-Natal under similar circumstances to Timol. The apartheid police said he had killed himself by hanging himself with his trousers, but his family believe he was murdered after being viciously tortured. An inquest into his death is being reopened.

Jessop told the court that his clients had a right to intervene because the outcome of Rodrigues’ application may set a precedent that will allow other apartheid police officers to avoid prosecution.

But Monama denied Jessop’s submission, and the Haffejee family have not been allowed to intervene. Monama said that the case involved the Timol family, but not all the other families of anti-apartheid victims.

“We must guard against a photo session,” Monama said.

Jessop responded: “This was not an intention to create undue publicity. This comes from the heart.”

Monama said the Timol family has a finding from an inquest which said he had been murdered and the apartheid police must be charged. In the Haffejee case, Monama said there had been no such finding and that he would not want to preempt the proceedings of the reopened inquest.

The Timol family will now face pressure to prevent Rodrigues from being successful in his bid to halt the trial, as other families of victims who died under similar circumstances watch the case unfold.

A full bench is expected to hear Rodrigues’ application in the new year, but a date has yet to be finalised. 

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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