Pretoria - Today marks three years since former apartheid policeman João Rodrigues was formally charged at the Johannesburg Central Police Station for the death of Ahmed Timol.
However, his trial is yet to proceed while costing the taxpayer millions in legal fees.
Rodrigues was charged at the same police station where anti-apartheid activist Timol lost his life nearly 50 years ago.
It was then known as the notorious John Vorster Square Police Station. Apartheid security police claimed Timol jumped to his death from Room 1026 at John Vorster Square on October 27, 1971.
Rodrigues made his first court appearance at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court in July 2018.
He was charged by the State for murder and defeating or obstructing the ends of justice and was granted bail of R2 000.
It was in the same court where the 1972 inquest into Timol’s death was heard.
The magistrate’s verdict into the inquest in June 1972 on the cause of death read: “The deceased died because of serious brain damage and loss of blood sustained when he jumped out of a window of Room 1026 at John Vorster Square and fell to the ground on the southern side of the building. He committed suicide. No living person is responsible for his death”.
Timol was the 22nd detainee to have died in police detention; many others were to follow.
Looksmart Ngudle was the first to die in 1963.
Rodrigues has made 19 court appearances in the last 3 years and his criminal trial has not yet started. His legal counsel launched an unsuccessful application in March 2019 to the full bench of the High Court sitting in Johannesburg for a stay of his prosecution.
Petitioning the Supreme Court of Appeal in November last year to review the decision of the full bench also proved unsuccessful.
In dismissing his bid, the Supreme Court verdict in June this year granted Rodrigues leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court. In his latest application to the apex court, his lawyers said he was suffering from ill-health and fading memory after suffering a stroke in April. No medical certificates were submitted to support this claim.
However, Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee, who has been fighting for justice for his uncle, points out that no reference was made of Rodrigues’s medical condition when he appeared before Judge RE Monama in April and May this year to pave the way forward in the case.
The judge also said during one of the many postponements in the case that the resources of the country were being exploited and overplayed with the lengthy court delays.
An earlier Promotion of Access to Information Act application seeking to establish the costs incurred by the State in defending Rodrigues revealed in November 2019 that R3 585 205.92 of taxpayers’ money had been paid so far to his legal team.
While the exact amount spent nearly two years later is not known, it is expected that millions are piling up with his applications for a stay of execution and now the case heading to the Constitutional Court.
Rodrigues earlier successfully asked that the Office of the State Attorney cover his costs, as he was a SAPS officer at the time of Timol’s death.
Meanwhile, Cajee said regarding Rodrigues’s latest health ailment claims that when he earlier appeared in court, he was very much in control of his faculties and displayed no signs of a stroke.
This was exacerbated by the fact that when Rodrigues was charged with indecent assault and attempted rape in a criminal case registered by his daughter, Tilana Stander, he was in a position to enter into settlement negotiations with the National Prosecuting Authority, Cajee said.
Charges were withdrawn against him in that case after a written apology to his daughter was read out to the court in May this year – a month after it was said that he had suffered a stroke. Cajee says Rodrigues is trying to delay his criminal trial at the expense of the taxpayer.