OPINION: Joao Rodrigues’s death is a huge blow, not only to the Timol family but to many other families of apartheid-era victims whose search for the truth about how their loved ones died has been deliberately obstructed by the delay in pursuing the cases, writes Yasmin Sooka.
The death of Joao Rodrigues, indicted for the murder of the late Ahmed Timol, on Tuesday could not have come at a worse time for the ruling party and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
The ANC-led government is confronted by the fruits of its poisonous policy to suppress the investigation and prosecution of apartheid-era cases emanating from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa, making a mockery of the sacrifice of apartheid-era victims who died for freedom.
Rodrigues successfully evaded having to stand trial. He pursued a policy of lawfare, at great public expense, seeking a permanent stay of prosecution, which was dismissed by the full Bench of the South Gauteng High Court in June 2019.
Rodrigues successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeals, for leave to appeal, and although granted leave, the SCA dismissed his appeal on June 21 this year, paving the way for his criminal trial to begin on July 12.
The case was again delayed when he appealed the decision of the SCA to the Constitutional Court. Since his indictment, Rodrigues appeared in court no less than 21 times.
Hawa Timol, the mother of the late Ahmed Timol, testified before the Human Rights Violations Committee of the TRC on April 30, 1996, 25 years after her son’s death in detention in 1971.
She described her anguish at hearing that her son had taken his own life, and her horror when seeing her son’s body, noting how badly he had been tortured, including how his nails had been pulled from his fingers. Hawa Timol made an impassioned plea to TRC chairperson Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to find the killers responsible for her son’s death.
Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of the late Ahmed Timol, contacted the NPA’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit (PCLU) in 2003, requesting that it investigate his uncle’s murder. The PCLU misled Cajee into believing that it was pursuing the matter. Ironically, had it done so, the two lead interrogators, Captains Johannes Hendrik Gloy (“Gloy”) and Johannes Zacharias van Niekerk (“Van Niekerk”) would have been alive and compelled to testify about their roles in the torture and murder of Ahmed Timol.
In 2004, the PCLU advised Cajee that it was closing the case. It would take him until 2017 to have the case reopened.
In the interim, Van Niekerk died in October 2006 and Gloy in July 2012.
Cajee’s threat of litigation to compel the state and the NPA to reopen the inquest into Timol’s death was successful, with the inquest beginning in 2017. The Hawks were unable to trace Rodrigues, the security branch officer in the room when Timol died.
Cajee was contacted by Rodrigues’s daughter who disclosed that her father was alive and provided his contact details. Rodrigues testified at the reopened inquest hearing in 2017, but lied and obfuscated, arguing that he suffered memory loss.
Judge Billy Mothle, in an extraordinary judgment, overturned the suicide finding of the first inquest court, ruling that Timol had been tortured and murdered by the security branch operatives who then staged an elaborate cover-up of his murder. Rodrigues, a party to the cover-up of the torture and murder, led Mothle to recommend that he be indicted for the murder of Ahmed Timol and for defeating the ends of justice.
The Timol case is groundbreaking, not only for the 2018 indictment of Joao Rodrigues but also for the impunity for apartheid-era crimes.
The Mbeki regime’s deliberate suppression of the investigation and prosecution of apartheid-era crimes, and the dereliction by the NPA and Hawks, by failing to uphold their constitutional obligations, must be investigated, as should the state’s political interference in shielding perpetrators responsible for apartheid-era crimes. Rodrigues, was a direct beneficiary of this conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice, as were Gloy and Van Nierkerk. Indeed, the NPA’s failure to indict Neville Els and Seth Sons further entrenches impunity.
Rodrigues’s death is a huge blow, not only to the Timol family but to many other families of apartheid-era victims whose search for the truth about how their loved ones died has been deliberately obstructed by the delay in pursuing the cases.
The call by Imtiaz Cajee and other family members of victims for a commission of inquiry into the political interference is backed by former TRC commissioners who also called upon the president to apologise to victims whose cases were abandoned. President Cyril Ramaphosa has not tendered an apology to the victims and has declined to appoint an inquiry. Surely the victims of apartheid crimes deserve more?
* Yasmin Sooka is a human rights lawyer and former TRC commissioner.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.