For three years after the High Court changed the inquest finding into Ahmed Timol’s death in detention from suicide to murder, and ordered that apartheid security policeman Joao Roderigues face prosecution, the State dawdled and Roderigues wriggled – until, eventually, the former policeman died, freed forever of the burdens of accountability and justice.

He spent the last years of his life in a technical legal struggle for a permanent stay of prosecution, fighting not just for his own freedom but that of all former apartheid torturers, murderers and assassins. The arguments he presented had nothing to do with the Timol murder and everything to do with alleged deficiencies in TRC processes, alleged political interference in the NPA, and secret amnesty deal.

The FW de Klerk Foundation appeared to confirm the latter in a press release calling on the NPA to cease further investigations of TRC matters on the basis of an alleged “agreement” between the National Party and the ANC.

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Roderigues’ argument failed to convince either a full bench of the South Gauteng High Court or the Supreme Court of Appeal. The Constitutional Court was his last hope, but he died before it considered the matter.

For four years, another pair of former security policemen implicated in heinous crimes during the re-opened Timol inquest, Neville Els and Seth Sons, have also evaded justice. They are now 87 and 85-years-old, respectively. Representations were made to the NPA by their lawyers on why they should not be prosecuted only at the end of January 2022. There is no evidence that any of their torture victims have been interviewed since the inquest. One of their victims, Professor Kantilal Naik, passed away last year.

On Friday, the South Gauteng High Court will pronounce on the application to overturn the apartheid inquest finding that Dr Neil Aggett committed suicide in detention. The application is widely expected to succeed. But, what then? Does overturning crooked apartheid inquests while deliberately not prosecuting murderers uphold the principles of justice?

The Aggett inquest was only enrolled after the death of one of his alleged primary torturers. When the Timol inquest was enrolled it was thought that all the perpetrators were already dead, too. Roderigues’ whereabouts were exposed by his daughter only after she read that the inquest was to be re-opened.

The passing of time makes it less and less likely that any perpetrators of apartheid-era crimes will be brought to book, defying the TRC’s recommendation that +300 cases required further investigation with a view to prosecution.

The next security policeman or soldier exposed as a murderer will pursue the same route through the courts that Roderigues did, raising similar arguments for permanent non-prosecution. Even if one of these cases finally makes it to the apex court for a decision, and the decision is that prosecution is constitutional, the matter will still need the necessary preparatory work to be placed on the roll. By then, will any perpetrators or witnesses still be alive?

Reversing false inquest findings is important, but without trials to hold perpetrators to account for their crimes the truth remains elusive. The perversion of the criminal justice system by politicians is a major contributor to the criminal impunity that reigns in our dear motherland.


Issued by Ahmed Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee who is finalising his latest book 

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