South Africa: Johannesburg: Former apartheid police officer Joao Rodrigues appears at the at the South Gauteng high court, Rodrigues was an officer in the apartheid-era police's feared security branch, is accused of being part of a group of policemen who murdered Ahmed Timol while he was in custody in 1971. Gauteng.Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg dismissing former apartheid police officer Joao Rodrigues’s application for a permanent stay of prosecution, was a victory for all the martyrs who were murdered by the apartheid regime, the Ahmed Timol family said yesterday. 

The ruling also paved the way for the reopening of an inquest into the murder of Imam Abdullah Haron, his daughter Fatima HaronMasoet said. Judge Seun Moshidi yesterday ruled that Rodrigues’s argument about his age held no water, but that it would be a factor during trial and sentencing.

 “The refusal of a permanent stay of prosecution is not a signalling that we are required to be vengeful to those who are alleged to have committed serious crimes in the past, but rather, an affirmation of the principles of accountability,” Judge Moshidi said. 

Timol was killed in 1971, while in police custody, an initial inquest, which was held in 1972, concluded that he had committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of the then John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg. 

But in 2017, Judge Billy Mothle ruled that Timol did not commit suicide. It was found that he was murdered, and Rodrigues was charged last July, because he was the last person he was seen with. Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, said: “I am ecstatic, as this is a victory for all our martyrs who were murdered by the apartheid regime.

This is a significant milestone and a victory. The matter was brought to the attention of the NPA in 2002, and they failed to investigate the matter. It was again brought to their attention in January 2016, when, with the assistance of the Foundation for Human Rights, we conducted our own investigation. My maternal grandparents have passed on. This is a calling for me to find justice and the truth, not only for my uncle, but other families as well.” 

Cajee called on the minister of Justice to intervene and “fast track” all cases related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There are many families who have still not received justice for the loss of their loved ones who died in police custody during the Struggle for liberation. 

One such case is that of Haron, who lost his life on September 27, 50 years ago after he was detained incommunicado on May 28, about three months after he was arrested. He was the co-founder and editor of the anti-apartheid Muslim News. Haron was a community leader who  led opposition to the forced removals in terms of the hated Group Areas Act. 

The family are also in the process of trying to reopen the inquest into his death. HaronMasoet said: “This is a major victory and it gives us all hope, especially the Haron family, we’ve been waiting such a long time to have our father’s case heard in court, to finally find answers into his killing. 

We were the victims of these apartheid crimes where investigation and prosecution was suppressed, and we as a family had the right to know what had happened.” The family of anti-apartheid activist Nokuthula Simelane who is still missing after being taken into custody by security police 35 years ago, is also seeking justice. 

Simelane’s family believes she was murdered by former security police officers and will on Thursday ask the Gauteng High Court to declare her to be presumed dead. Simelane, who would have turned 60 in September, was allegedly abducted and tortured by former security branch members in 1983. 

Former national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams decided to prosecute the four accused for her murder based on evidence gathered by the priority crimes litigation unit of the National Prosecuting Authority following the TRC hearings. 

The four were earlier released on R5 000 bail each. Their trial was put on hold, as they fought a legal battle for the police to pay their legal fees. 

Simelane’s sister, Polokwane mayor Thembi Nkadimeng, said: “We know from the TRC hearings that my sister suffered terribly at the hands of the secret branch. We know that she refused to collaborate with the forces of apartheid. For this she paid the ultimate price.”