Daughter of apartheid cop accused of Timol’s murder speaks out

Former security branch officer sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues. (Amanda Khoza, News24.)

Former security branch officer sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues. (Amanda Khoza, News24.)

Jenni Evans and Zukile Daniel

Perched on a shelf at the entrance to Tilana Stander’s Cape Town home is the Afrikaans word for love – liefde – and wooden ornamental hearts tapped the wall gently in the summer breeze.

The peaceful home she shares with her husband Rikus is very far removed from her childhood home in Pretoria.That was where she grew up as the daughter of Joao “Jan” Roderigues, a member of apartheid’s feared Security Branch and the man who will stand trial in January for the murder of anti-apartheid activist and school teacher Ahmed Timol. 

Timol was arrested in 1971 and the police in the room at the time, including Roderigues, said the young teacher and activist from Roodepoort threw himself out of a window on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg police station.

Timol’s family refused to believe this and the National Prosecuting Authority held another inquest last year, overturning the 1972 finding that he died by suicide.  Were it not for an email to the Ahmed Timol Foundation by Stander, he might not have been traced to answer questions about that fateful day on October 22, 1971.

The developments in 79-year-old Roderigues’ case offers hope to other families in a similar position to the Timols, that they might also get answers from other police officers who have created new lives for themselves.

Roderigues had in the meantime, left the police and carved out a new career for himself as a prolific author of books about nature and wildlife, running a website promoting his work that has since been deactivated.

Stander says she has not spoken to her father for years, nor does she want to because of an extremely difficult childhood.

But when she read that the foundation was battling to track him down, she made up her mind and sent a simple message to their website.

“I said: ‘I’m the daughter. The man is still alive. He’s not dead as they say on television’,” Stander told News24. 

“They were using the wrong name,” she said, adding that he now goes by the name Jan and his surname was spelt differently to what they had.

“It was no problem to me to give him over to Imtiaz,” she says, referring to Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Cajee who has campaigned relentlessly to find out what really happened to his uncle.

She said Cajee called her and said: “I can’t believe it! Seriously?” 

“I want to help the Timol family get closure on this because that is what he owes them,” she said.

As a result of the new inquest, Roderigues was expected to go on trial next year. Roderigues will also apply for a permanent stay of prosecution but this process must be completed by the trial date of January 28, 2019.

Cajee told News24 that Stander’s contact with them was a “massive breakthrough”.

“Up to that particular point, we were totally in the dark. We thought he was dead, or he had left the country.” 

For Cajee, the death of his uncle and another uncle going into exile during apartheid had a profound effect on his life.

“It has been a very long journey,” Cajee said of the family’s relentless pursuit of the truth.

He also hopes that other people who have recollections of that period – from police officers, to cleaners to administrative staff will also come forward to assist other families in the way they have been helped.

Stander said that although sending the email gave her a sense that she had done the right thing, she also “crashed”.

It opened a wound from a painful childhood that she says only started healing when she packed up and left home after writing her final exams at school.

For the “flower child who loved everybody”, home life was very difficult. 

He father did not talk about his police work, she says.

“He would intimidate us a lot,” she says of herself and her six siblings. She does not talk to them anymore and says they think she is crazy.

“I tried so hard to get out of that house,” says Stander. 

“He’s only biologically tied to me.” 

She said she was horrified by apartheid and hated policemen in those days.

It took years of psychotherapy, self-care lessons and breathing exercises to leave those years behind.  

“I am in a totally different space at the moment.”

When contacted for comment, Roderigues said he did not want to discuss any of the issues raised. 

“No I don’t want to talk about that stuff anymore.”