Joao Rodrigues's legal representative faced a full bench at the Johannesburg High Court in a desperate attempt to rescue his client from standing trial for the 1971 murder of Ahmed Timol. . Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
Johannesburg - Former apartheid security branch officer Joao Rodrigues's legal representative on Thursday faced a full bench at the Johannesburg High Court in a desperate attempt to rescue his client from standing trial for the 1971 murder of Ahmed Timol.

The now 80-year-old is asking the court for a permanent stay of prosecution. 

Anti-apartheid activist Timol died after falling from the 10th floor of the then John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg, where he was detained.

The original inquest, held in 1972, concluded that Timol committed suicide, with most of the evidence being centred on Rodrigues's testimony. 

He said he saw Timol jump to his death and couldn't save him because he tripped over a chair.

In 2017, judge Billy Mothle ruled that Timol was murdered.

Rodrigues was charged in July 2018.

Family, friends and members of the public filled the gallery at Thursday's hearing, wearing T-shirts with Timol's face printed on the front and, on the back, the names of apartheid activists who died in custody.

Steve Biko's son, Nkosinathi Biko, was also in attendance.

Advocate Jaap Cilliers SC, argued that Rodrigues had been unfairly charged with Timol's murder without "conclusive evidence".

He said there had been an unreasonable delay in bringing Rodrigues to trial and blamed the state for charging Rodrigues with a crime that took place over three decades ago. 

"How can an 80-year-old man defend himself from these vague allegations?" asked Cilliers.

He said the trial would be unfair to Rodrigues because the two officers who left him in the room with Timol were dead and could not testify. 

Advocate Kennedy Tsatsawane SC, arguing for the state, dismissed Cilliers's argument. The state did not need the testimony of the deceased officers, he said, because according to Rodrigues, he was the only one who saw Timol jump out of the window.

"His version of events is that he was with Timol in the room and he saw him jump. We can't now expect to rely on testimony from Van Niekerk and Gloy," he said.

Lawyers for the country's prosecutions' head and the minister of police are also opposing Rodrigues's application. 

The matter continues on Friday.

African News Agency (ANA)