Former apartheid security police officer João Rodrigues, who was charged with the murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol in 1971, died at his home on Monday. (Anthony Schultz/M&G)
Former apartheid Security Branch clerk João ‘Jan’ Rodrigues will stand trial on charges of murder and defeating the ends of justice for his alleged role in the 1971 murder of activist Ahmed Timol.
On Monday morning, the Johannesburg high court dismissed the octogenarian’s application for a permanent stay of prosecution.
Judge Seun Moshidi said that the issue of Rodrigues’ advanced age, which he has cited amongst the reasons why he shouldn’t be prosecuted, may be considered during his sentencing.
Rodrigues had applied for a permanent stay of prosecution after being charged in July 2018 with Timol’s 1971 murder. Timol died in 1971 after falling from the tenth floor of the then John Vorster Square police station in central Johannesburg, where he had been detained.
The police alleged in 1972 that Timol took his own life, but his family found it to be an unbelievable claim, partly because of his Muslim faith. A 2017 inquest headed by Judge Billy Mothle found that Timol was murdered after being pushed.
Human rights lawyer and former Truth and Reconciliation commissioner Yasmin Sooka, who is one of six people who applied to enter the court battle over whether Rodrigues should be prosecuted, said that for many years they believed Rodrigues was dead. It was only when his daughter disclosed that he was alive and well that he could be traced and indicted, though he initially refused to come forward.
“We hope for Mr Rodrigues sake that this time, he is going to change his story. And at the end of the day justice will be served,” Sooka told the SABC.
Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Cajee told the SABC that the family was “totally delighted.”
“We had always known that the truth would be on our side. Today’s judgement is not just a victory for Ahmed Timol, but for all the activists who died in police detention. Twenty-five years since the birth of democracy there has been absolutely no progress on the investigations, and there’s a clear message that the full back bench has said today, that apartheid-era perpetrators can no longer use the excuse of the time delay or like Rodrigues did, talking about his age. It will simply not hold.
“If apartheid-era perpetrators continued to stick to their version of events, that was supported by the judiciary, in open collusion with the security branch during the apartheid era, then he must continue to face the full wrath of the law.”
Sooka says that this judgement is “historic” for the work of the TRC.
“In 1999, we handed over a list of 300 cases to the then-head of the Scorpions, Bulelani Ngcuka, and we asked that these cases be further investigated with a view to prosecutions. It took us until 2005 to get prosecution guidelines from the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority], and it’s been a sixteen-year battle to get this inquest reopened. So this judgement really is a victory, as the judge put it, for justice and accountability for victims. The judge also said that there is a new criteria that they are using, and that is the interest of the victims and their families and our society.
“Another thing the judge said was that the NDPP needs to take account of its officials who are in fact implicated in the delay because they don’t hold only the state accountable for the political interference, and so [Shamila Batohi] and the minister of justice need to take action against those involved.
“But I think the message to the perpetrators from our side is that this judgement is a message to you: come forward and make full disclosure, because if you don’t, we are going to be relentless in our pursuit of justice and accountability and the message is to the NDPP as well: do your job, without fear or favour, because at the end of the day this matter is a signal to you and to all of the other cases that we are coming after the perpetrators.”
NPA spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said that the ruling is in the interest of society and of justice, and affirms the rule of law. “Those who are alleged to have perpetrated violent crimes should be held accountable. A whole lot of investigations are happening and they are all handled by the national director, and we would just like to plead with the public to bear with us.”
“The judgement was very clear that the criminal case must commence immediately,” said Cajee. Mjonondwane said that there is no court date set yet for Rodrigues’ trial, as his lawyers want to study the judgement and will then inform whether they wish to appeal.
Read the court’s judgment here:
Rodrigues Judgment by Mail and Guardian on Scribd