Rodrigues’ death denies Timol family justice and closure
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Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of slain anti-apartheid Struggle activist Ahmed Timol, is seeing red over the death of Joao Rodrigues, before justice was served for the family.
“The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has failed. It’s a given... but don’t let other families go through a similar situation (like we did).”
Rodrigues’ death comes as the 81-year-old former apartheid-era police officer was due to return to court at the end of the month for the murder of Timol in 1971.
Cajee is citing political unwillingness as the reason for his family being denied the closure they desperately sought.
And all of this has left Cajee seething, he admits.
“I’ve been seething all along and I am still seething now because it is clear that this thing was allowed to happen. I knew it was coming because there was no political will to fast-track the case. When the news broke, and when Rodrigues’ daughter Tilana Stander contacted me to confirm, my anger and rage started seething.
“After 19 court appearances, filled with delay tactics, it became clear to me that the state had no intentions for him to have his day in court,” he says, adding how he had dedicated his life to finding justice for his uncle, attending most of the court proceedings so that Rodrigues could feel his presence and know that he, Cajee, had not given up.
“He had to be held accountable,” he says.
Rodrigues was found guilty in October 2018 by Judge Billy Mothle in a second inquest into the death of Timol, after the 1972 findings that he had committed suicide. But instead of the commencement of the long-awaited trial, Cajee says a lot of delay tactics were applied with clear intentions to frustrate the case.
“How my uncle’s matter has been handled has clearly demonstrated that there is absolutely no political will. Because if there was, it should not have taken more than three years for his court appearance to face criminal charges. For me personally, the NPA has gotten another window of opportunity to admit they have messed up and cannot deny it any longer. That they have dismally failed the victims family and now intend to reverse that,” said Cajee.
“There were numerous delaying stories, which were a clear build-up to frustrate the entire process. Through it all, I was convinced that the trial would never commence. Even if they were unsuccessful at the Constitutional Court, they would have submitted a medical certificate or come up with some explanation preventing him from having his day in court. So I anticipated it.”
Cajee explains that seeing as though such cases have developed a similar pattern of delay or no recourse whatsoever, that the NPA should have a plan of action in place that will be implemented so that cases get the necessary priority they deserve.
“So families become convinced of the NPA’s integrity, because over the years, we have become too accustomed to the blatant lies (for recourse) that have been spread. And it is absolutely cruel in my view that the family is given a glimmer of hope that our matter is getting priority.
“Having been involved in investigating my uncle’s matter, I can tell you that it is an absolute lie when they speak about not having capacity and resources. There just needs to be political willingness that requires honesty and integrity on the part of the state. Then collaboration with families concerned directly to win them over, because families have lost whatever trust they had in the state because of their dismal record.”
According to Cajee, this dismal track record includes cases such as that of Nokuthula Simelane, Nicodemus Kgoathe, Ashley Kriel, Nicodemus Kgoathe, Dr Neil Aggett, Jimmy Taylor and the current case of Dr Hoosen Haffejee that is currently unfolding, all of which have not produced any justice but are all reactive in nature.
“It is the honesty and integrity on the part of the state that will ensure that the prosecutors assigned are committed and that they are there to serve justice for the family. Once an inquest is opened it should not take weeks or months for that inquest to proceed or to be concluded, because (it is most likely that) the perpetrators from the 1960s have already passed on.
The NPA had not responded to the questions sent by the time of printing.
For human rights lawyer and former Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) commissioner Yasmin Sooka the battle in such cases is a battle against time that when you look cumulatively at all the cases out there, and the number of critical perpetrators who have been implicated, “it’s almost as if they wanted to die before we can get anything happening on those cases. And that is such for our society”.
“But even with the race against time, I don’t think we should accept defeat. If you look at the strategy that we have adopted, we look at the process of truth recovery, the process of criminal accountability and of course the question of reparation.
“For many families, if you have to have an inquest which looks back at the documentation that is existing, if you are able to call witnesses that suffered similar torture, you provide similar evidence, and at least are able to overturn a finding which said that someone died by taking their own life, you are able to confirm for the family that actually, they were murdered by the security branch and the apartheid government.
“For many families, that is such an important process. If you are able to confirm what happened to them, the torture and beating they experienced (and) giving other people who have similarly suffered, that is healing not only for the individual family but for our society as a whole,” says Sooka.
She adds that the question of having perpetrators that can be indicted follows, with the Timol case having two more known perpetrators, Neville Els and Seth Sons.
“These two people who have been implicated and knew that Timol would be tortured, and in fact should be indicted for aiding and abetting.
“The NPA didn’t do anything about this and we had to write several times to them, and this past Wednesday we put them on terms, saying if they do not indict these two men while they are still alive, we will be going to court to do so.
“So getting justice requires a lot of work but it is also so rewarding, because it also helps this family find a sense that somebody cares and that there can be justice for them, even if it’s limited.”