Open Letter to President Ramaphosa


11 November 2021

Dear Comrade President

I am the nephew of the late comrade, Isithwalandwe Ahmed Timol, murdered in police detention in October 1971.

I have researched his murder for decades, writing two books to date on my progress.

In 2017, assisted by the Foundation of Human Rights and the legal firm, Webber Wentzel, we managed to compel the NPA to re-open the inquest.

Forty-five years after a 1972 apartheid inquest court found that my uncle committed suicide after his arrest the finding was overturned by the High Court of our now democratic nation, and replaced with a finding of murder.

Re-opening the inquest was a historic event. Apartheid courts routinely upheld the lies of murderous policemen in sham inquests. This was the first one to be officially overturned.

Some believe I should have felt a sense of satisfaction and closure with this development. But too many unanswered questions remained. Questions pertinent not just to the Timol family but also to all the other families who lost loved ones to apartheid security force depravity – and to the integrity of the nation.

Last month was the 50th anniversary of my uncle’s death. Comrades and friends gathered at the Roodepoort Cemetery, and outside Johannesburg Central Police Station, where he was murdered, to commemorate his life and the vindication of the overturned inquest.

I could not bring myself to attend these events. To me, it’s been 50 years of secrets, lies, cover-ups and dead ends – each forward step raising a swirl of new unanswered questions that remain unanswered till this day.

I therefore paid tribute to my uncle on my own.

Comrade President: A Priority Crimes Litigation Unit at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was established in 2003. It was mandated to investigate cases recommended for further investigation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – of which there were more than 300, including that of Timol.

Fourteen years later the Timol inquest was reopened, with the court recommending the prosecution of former security policeman Joao Roderigues.

What followed is at the heart of my disillusionment.

Roderigues was charged in July 2018. After nineteen court appearances, his application for a permanent stay of prosecution was rejected by a full bench of the High Court, as well as the Supreme Court of Appeal.

He had no financial constraints because his legal team was paid by the State. The Appellate Division granted him leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court. A date for the appeal was yet to be set when Roderigues died in September.

In heads of arguments presented by his legal counsel – who have reportedly indicated that they want the matter to proceed at the Constitutional Court despite their client’s death in order to establish a legal principle – it is alleged that although he did not apply to the TRC for amnesty, Roderigues was granted amnesty under some secret agreement.

When the NPA and police announced the appointment of a dedicated unit to investigate TRC cases earlier this year, the FW de Klerk Foundation backed up Roderigues’ amnesty claim. In an undated press release, it referred to an “informal agreement between the ANC leadership and former operatives of the pre-1994 government”.

Comrade President, as a leader of the historic negotiations, with Roelf Meyer and others, that led to the advent of democracy in 1994, I beg you for enlightenment on the terms of the secret deal. Not just the families who lost loved ones, but millions of South Africans victimised by the apartheid system deserve to know.

We owe it to our martyrs to hold those responsible for their deaths accountable, to know the truth. The late Roderigues is just one of them.

Comrade President, the Apartheid-Era Victims Family Group (AVFG) sent correspondence to you in 2019 and in 2021 in your capacity as President of South Africa, seeking assistance with these matters. So did former TRC Commissioners, in 2019. To date, no responses have been received.

I now write to you as President of the ANC, the ruling party in the country, and as a former comrade in the trade unions who was himself arrested and detained by the Security Police. 

I implore you to break your silence on why post-TRC prosecutions have not happened under an ANC-led government?

I implore you to tell the country about the “informal agreements” De Klerk is referring to. Are they the reason for what former NDPP Vusi Pikoli, in an affidavit, described as political interference by the former ANC President, Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet, hindering him from investigating TRC matters?

I note the Minister of Justice’s recent announcement of a commission of inquiry of some sort into these matters.

An investigation into political interference would be good, but actually proceeding with the criminal investigations and prosecutions while alleged perpetrators are still alive to be held to account would serve justice better.

Comrade President, my uncle sacrificed his life advancing the aims of the glorious liberation movement you now have the honour to lead. Many other courageous men and women laid down their lives, too. 

If there was a political agreement that their murderers should not be held to account, those they left behind deserve to know.

I beg you to set the record straight. Was there an “informal agreement” as alluded to by Apartheid President de Klerk? And, if so, why?

I humbly await your reply.

Imtiaz Ahmed Cajee