Ramaphosa urged to establish judicial inquiry into lack of apartheid prosecutions

Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of murdered anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, will recommend that President Cyril Ramaphosa establish a judicial commission of inquiry into the lack of apartheid-era investigations and prosecutions by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

In court papers, Cajee has called the NPA’s failure to investigate and prosecute former apartheid policemen who were denied amnesty for their crimes by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) a “deep betrayal of all those who participated in good faith in the TRC process”.

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

“I will be calling for an inquiry into those prosecutors and police who failed in their duties to uphold the rule of law,” Cajee stated in court papers.

The court papers were filed in opposition of an application by former Security Branch clerk João “Jan” Rodrigues for a permanent stay of prosecution. Rodrigues has been charged with the murder of Timol and defeating the ends of justice after a reopened inquest into Timol’s death last year found that he was involved in the activist’s murder in 1971.

Timol was killed after being viciously tortured at John Vorster Square by security police.


Cajee says that victims of apartheid entered into a “compact” with the state during the TRC, where they sacrificed “fundamental rights” to justice to “advance national unity and reconciliation”.

But 24 years after apartheid, Cajee says an investigation needs to be held into why there has yet to be a prosecution of perpetrators in TRC-related cases.

“The record speaks for itself. How many TRC cases has the NPA investigated and actually moved forward? And the only other names that comes to mind is that of the murder of Nokuthula Simelane and the death in detention of Dr Neil Aggett,” Cajee said.

READ MORE: Family lose hope MK fighter is alive

“Those two matters are still today not progressing and there are still delays,” he added.

The TRC recommended a list of more than 300 cases for investigation to the NPA. Affidavits filed by former NPA national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli and prosecutor Anton Ackermann in 2015 detail how Cabinet members — such as former justice minister Brigitte Mabandla and former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi — sought to unduly interfere in the prosecution and investigation of TRC-related cases. 

Pikoli alleged that the political interference was the result of a fear by the ANC that should prosecutions begin, then the ANC too could face investigations for some of its actions in the struggle against apartheid.

READ MORE: Rewriting the truth of Timol’s death

Cajee has said the political interference in the NPA amounted to the “capture” of the prosecuting authority and its suppression of justice for apartheid victims.

He further stated that he would make a recommendation to Ramaphosa once the court proceedings in Rodrigues’ application for a permanent stay of prosecution wraps up.

“It has to come from the president directly and it has to be prioritised. We cannot ask the same NPA to investigate itself as to why they failed dismally to investigate the cases that have been assigned to them for more than two decades,” Cajee asserted.

During its election manifesto launch rally in Durban on Saturday, Ramaphosa honoured Timol with the Isithwalandwe Award for his contribution to the liberation struggle, saying the party felt “sadness at the circumstances of his death”.

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

The Timol case has set a precedent that has inspired families of other victims of apartheid brutality to come forward and demand justice. Lukhanyo Calata, the son of slain Cradock Four member Fort Calata, and the families of Matthews Mabelane and Hoosen Haffejee — anti-apartheid activists who are believed to have been murdered in police custody during apartheid — have made appeals for the cases into the deaths of their loved ones to be reopened.

If Rodrigues fails in his bid to halt the prosecution against him, then he will be the first apartheid cop to stand trial for the death of a freedom fighter in detention.

For Cajee, the delays in the NPA to prosecute have led to a delay in justice for his family, and for his uncle. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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