Apartheid cop claims he was granted amnesty for Ahmed Timol’s death


Joao Rodrigues, who was an officer in the apartheid-era police’s feared security branch, is accused of being part of a group of policemen who murdered Ahmed Timol while he was in custody in 1971. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

By Bongani Nkosi

Johannesburg – Joao Rodrigues, the retired cop facing prosecution over the 1971 death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, has made a drastic claim that he was effectively granted amnesty following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Rodrigues’s latest legal papers in the matter, deposed at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) for an application seeking a permanent stay of prosecution, maintain that this particular amnesty was granted by the president in terms of his constitutional powers.

The legal papers do not mention which former president granted the amnesty, but insist that it was given to all those involved in apartheid-era political crimes.

An “Amnesty Task Team” was set up to look into granting amnesty to those who, like Rodrigues, did not apply for it at the TRC, said Rodrigues’s heads of argument.

Though its outcomes were inexplicably not communicated to the public, the “most probable inference is that there was indeed an amnesty granted”, they said.


Rodrigues draws this inference from the fact that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) did not go after those who did not apply for amnesty.

Ahmed Timol

“We submit that on probability the president indeed granted a pardon to the group of politically motivated perpetrators who did not apply for amnesty (which include the Appellant),” said Rodrigues’s papers.

Rodrigues, 81, was engaged in a battle to stave off a murder charge over Timol’s death at the infamous John Vorster Square.


Timol was arrested along with Salim Essop, now a retired academic, on October 22, 1971 at a roadblock in Coronationville. Police found pamphlets of the then banned SA Communist Party in the boot of their car.

Judge Billy Mothle ruled in 2017 after an inquest that Timol was killed by members of the security branch and did not commit suicide by jumping from the 10th floor.

He recommended the prosecution of Rodrigues, who was present when Timol died 48 years ago. Rodrigues also sought to clear his name before Judge Mothle.

Rodrigues now seeks a permanent stay of prosecution. The SCA will hear his application, opposed by the NPA, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, Police Minister Bheki Cele and Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Cajee, in November.

His legal team will go all out to convince the Bench that it was not by mistake that the NPA did not take any steps to prosecute apartheid regimes cases.

“It is further clear that there was some decision taken and/or agreement and/or arrangement between government on the highest level and other interested parties in terms whereof it was agreed that no prosecutions will be instituted for certain political crimes which included the one relevant to this application,” said Rodrigues’s court papers.

Rodrigues’s clemency claim ostensibly stems from the NPA’s submissions at the North Gauteng High Court last year that political interference by senior politicians delayed it from prosecuting apartheid crimes.

“The (NPA) does not deny that the executive branch of the State took what one can describe as political steps to manage the conduct of criminal investigations and possible prosecution of the perpetrators of the political murders such as that of Mr Timol,” said the Torie Pretorius, the NPA’s head of the Priority Litigation Crimes Unit.

But exactly what the NPA put forward as political interference, Rodrigues argued was a decision that the authority regarded itself legally bound by.

“The only basis for such (a) view could have been their knowledge of a legal pardon being granted and/or a legal agreement between government and interested parties.”


The Star