Apartheid cop to face music for Ahmed Timol’s murder after Appeals Court dismisses his application

Former apartheid police officer Joao Rodrigues 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)

Johannesburg- Retired policeman João Roderigues has failed to convince the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) that the political interference that put the brakes on the prosecution of apartheid-era crimes amounted to an amnesty.

In his major judgment on Monday, Judge Aubrey Ledwaba made some scathing remarks against the government’s earlier policy position not to prosecute apartheid culprits who did not apply for amnesty at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

But there was not enough evidence to prove that the interference, which happened during former president Thabo Mbeki’s tenure, amounted to a lawful pardon, found Judge Ledwaba.

Roderigues, charged over the 1971 death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, made a startling claim in his SCA application that he had actually been granted amnesty.

The 81-year-old former member of the Security Branch sought a permanent stay of prosecution based on this “amnesty” and on whether it was fair to charge him some 47 years after Timol’s death. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) charged Roderigues with murder and defeating the administration of justice in 2018.


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This decision followed an inquest held at the North Gauteng High Court. It sought to establish whether or not Timol committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of the then John Vorster Square police station, as the apartheid regime claimed.

Judge Billy Mothle ruled after this inquest that Timol was killed by members of the Security Branch. He recommended the prosecution of Roderigues, who was present when Timol was thrown out of the window.

Apartheid police arrested Timol along with Salim Essop, now a retired academic, at a roadblock in Coronationville after finding pamphlets of the then-banned SACP in the boot of their car.

“It was not contested that from 2003 to 2017, investigations into the TRC cases were stopped as a result of an executive decision. This was indeed interference with the NPA,” Judge Ledwaba said.

“Be that as it may, however, whether the nature of the political decisions amounted to a lawful pardon or amnesty … remains unclear on the available evidence.”

Judge Ledwaba said he agreed with the Pretoria high court’s earlier ruling that while the political interference was serious, reasons for it did not impede Roderigues’s trial.

“There is simply no evidence showing how the political interference impacts on factors relating to whether the substantial fairness of the trial is tainted,” said Judge Ledwaba.

He was scathing of the government’s earlier policy position not to prosecute individuals who did not apply for amnesty at the TRC.

The Star