National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Net closing on apartheid crimes perpetrators

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Jun 29, 2021

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Pretoria - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is setting up a specialist unit to deal exclusively with cases regarding apartheid-era atrocities.

It will be appointing former experienced prosecutors in offices across the country which require additional capacity to deal with these matters.

This comes in the wake of the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment last week turning down apartheid-era police officer João Rodrigues’s bid for a stay of prosecution.

He is facing a charge of murder related to the death of Ahmed Timol nearly 50 years ago.

The NPA and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) welcomed the judgment and said they were now gearing-up to investigate and eventually prosecute more of these crimes.

The NPA said it acknowledged that the delay of prosecutions of these cases amounts to the denial of justice to the victims of apartheid-era atrocities.

It has thus established dedicated capacity to ensure that those responsible for apartheid-era atrocities can be held accountable in a fair and transparent process.

To bolster the NPA’s capacity to prosecute these Truth and Reconciliation Commission cases, National Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Shamila Batohi, transferred them to the relevant directors of prosecutions in the regions where the crimes were committed.

According to the prosecuting authority, this approach increased the number of experienced prosecutors available to handle these complex cases. As a result, the number of cases has increased from four to 53 over the past 12 months.

The NPA, however, realised that additional and dedicated capacity in both the NPA and the Hawks was needed to deal with these cases.

A dedicated national office capacity will provide specialised advice, co-ordination, monitoring and support.

Meanwhile, the Hawks also embarked on the process to establish a dedicated team by a recruitment drive to re-enlist a number of skilled former police officials with knowledge in the detective environment.

At least 34, and four of the members who were appointed from April 1 for a contractual period of three years, are assigned to these cases.

“The investigation of these cases that was being conducted by the full-time Hawks members, with multiple case dockets on hand, is now taken over by these dedicated and specialised teams, which is aligned to the regionalised approach adopted by the NPA. Our collective efforts are starting to pay off, and a further 59 cases have been identified,” the NPA said.

It was envisaged that the investigations would be concluded by the end of the contractual period of the 34 former detective members.

The NPA also said inquests into the deaths in detention of Neil Aggett and Ernest Dipale, which were reopened, had reached an advanced stage.

The apartheid atrocities cases under consideration date back to the early 1960s. The health conditions and circumstances of the witnesses and suspects, and nature of available evidence, further complicate the investigation and prosecution of these cases.

The challenges in investigating these cases could not be underestimated, the NPA said.

Head of the Hawks, Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya, gave assurance that his unit was ready and it would have the capacity to investigate these crimes.

The Apartheid Era Victims Family Group welcomed the rejuvenated effort by these two law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute apartheid-era crimes. They, however, questioned why it was only being done now.

The families were also sceptical of the appointment of 34 “supposedly” experienced detectives.

“Based on past experiences with the Hawks, we demand a transparent process for the appointment of these investigators. The public is entitled to know the identities and history of the candidates, in particular, whether any of them are or were previously involved in apartheid-related structures,” said Kone Gugushe, daughter of Mapetla Mohapi.

The families, however, vowed to support the process and to assist in the investigations.

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