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Death of apartheid-era cop João Rodrigues a blow to victims’ families

02/08/2017. Joao Rodrigues at the high court in Pretoria during the Ahmed Timol inquest. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

02/08/2017. Joao Rodrigues at the high court in Pretoria during the Ahmed Timol inquest. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Published Sep 8, 2021


Johannesburg - The Foundation for Human Rights says the death of former apartheid policeman João Rodrigues comes as a huge blow, not only to anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol’s family, but also to many other families of victims, particularly those affiliated to the Apartheid-Era Victims’ Families Group.

“They have been waiting patiently to find out how their loved ones died during detention. The window of opportunity to pursue justice is fast closing. The families of victims feel betrayed and abandoned by South Africa’s post-apartheid state, which deliberately suppressed the investigation and prosecution of apartheid-era crimes,” said Foundation for Human Rights spokesperson Howard Varney.

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“The NPA admitted in the Rodrigues case that it allowed politicians and other functionaries to dictate its approach to prosecuting apartheid-era crimes. This resulted in the suppression of the TRC cases. Such disgraceful conduct was in complete disregard for the NPA’s constitutional obligation to exercise its functions without fear, favour or prejudice.

“The political interference was done with the specific intent to shield persons responsible for apartheid-era crimes, especially senior officers and decision makers. Rodrigues was a direct beneficiary of this conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice. Other beneficiaries included the lead interrogators of Timol,” Varney said..

Rodrigues, who was 82 years old, had been charged with the murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, who was killed in John Vorster Square police detention in October 1971.

His attorney, Ben Minnaar, confirmed that Rodrigues died in his Pretoria home at midnight on Monday after falling sick

“It fills me with anger to hear that Rodrigues had died without him having his criminal trial commencing. Remember, the verdict was issued on October 12, 2017. In the next month we are approaching four years, and his first court appearance was on July 30, 2018. He subsequently made 19 court appearances; he also took his matter to a full bench of the South Gauteng High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. They dismissed his application for a permanent stay of prosecution,” Imitiaz Cajee said.

“The reality is that he (Rodrigues) is going to his grave without being held accountable for his role in the murder of my uncle. This raises a whole range of questions that the government needs to answer, specifically the NPA and the justice minister.

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“The question that needs to be asked is, does this government look after the interest of apartheid perpetrators, or do they look after the interest of victims of apartheid crimes? The impression created is that the likes of Rodrigues have simply got away without being held accountable for their roles,” said Cajee.

Cajee said if one looked at the inquest into the death of Dr Hoosen Mia Haffejee, which is taking place in Pietermaritzburg High Court, the government waited for the senior interrogator, Jimmy Tailor, to pass on before they announced the Haffejee inquest.

He also said if one looks at the matter of Nokuthula Simelane, which has been in court since 2013, the criminal trial to date has not started, and a number of the accused have already died.

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“These cannot be coincidences that can simply be overlooked. In our view, as families of the apartheid-era victims’ family groups, it only reaffirms the view that there is absolutely no political will to ensure that these matters are investigated and prosecuted timeously.

“The facts speak for themselves that we are being failed by the government. It is very important to reiterate that I personally reached out to Rodrigues on numerous occasions for him to come clean, to make a full, honest disclosure to share the true events that unfolded at John Vorster Square Police Station pertaining to my uncle’s death, but he was not forthcoming,” said Cajee.

“When we reach out to perpetrators it is not a sign of weakness on our part. It is a sign of genuine commitment on our part as victims to say let us find each other, let us find closure, let us help one another to have genuine reconciliation. The reality is that we as victims continue to reach out and we get absolutely nothing in return. That is a painful reality,” Cajee said.

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Mohammed Timol said Rodigues had gone to his grave with secrets, and the family doesn’t have closure because he was part of the murder of Timol.

“If the trial had taken place, probably there would have been more revelations, but all that we know is that he was murdered by security police. From the first day of his arrest, only Rodrigues, and others who he was also with, and who have also died, could have revealed the truth.

“The other two security policemen who are still alive who were subpoenaed to give testimony at the Ahmed Timol inquest simply said they couldn’t remember, and that was their line of response throughout the examination. Those two are still alive, but they were not charged.

“The NPA did not charge them for perjury. He is going to the grave with the sins and crimes that he has committed. Let us pray that in another life he will pay for it. My mother, when she was still alive, said if we do not get the truth when he is still alive, we will get the truth in heaven,” said Timol.

Rodrigues admitted that he was the last person to see Timol alive after he was interrogated by the apartheid-era secret police. He, however, maintained that Timol was healthy and fine when he saw him, and that Timol suddenly ran to the window and jumped.

Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem said their party was calling upon the NPA to deal urgently with all the other outstanding cases which were referred to them by the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to bring closure to the painful past.

“It’s unfortunate that Rodriguez died before the country could hear from him what really happened to comrade Timol, who killed Timol. We will now never hear the truth,” said Bloem.

NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga could not be reached for comment.

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Political Bureau