Timol killing: apartheid cop in dock is a 'bittersweet moment'
Reopened case stirs hope the 'bigger fish' will be brought to justice, says MEC Panyaza Lesufi
It was a “bittersweet moment” to see former apartheid security branch officer Sergeant Joao “Jan” Rodrigues appearing in court for the murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, more than four decades after his death.
Speaking outside the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday, Gauteng MEC for education and provincial ANC deputy chairperson Panyaza Lesufi said he attended proceedings to support Timol’s family.
“It [Rodrigues’s arrest]’s a bittersweet moment. It’s bitter that we are looking at a small fish. There are bigger fish that didn’t apply for amnesty; they misled the truth commission, but sweet that there is action [taken]. There are senior people that need to come here ...”
Lesufi said that as he sat in court listening to Rodrigues’s bail application, memories of when he was tried by the apartheid regime flooded back.
“Some of us appeared here during our youth days. There are some people that were not found until today ... many leaders that are unaccounted for. This process brings a glimmer of hope.”
Rodrigues appeared on charges of murder and defeating the ends of justice.
If he is convicted of Timol’s murder on October 27 1971, he faces a sentence of life imprisonment.
Dressed in khaki pants and jacket, Rodrigues looked calm as he walked in crutches from the holding cells. He smiled and shook hands with a man who had been waiting for him to emerge.
One of the officials was heard saying earlier that Rodrigues was having difficulty walking from the prison cells to the dock because he recently had a foot operation.Rodrigues was granted R2,000 bail by magistrate Carlo Labuschagne, who found that it is in the interest of justice that he be released. He warned him that he is charged with a schedule six offence for the murder of Timol and that he faced life imprisonment for it.
“The onus is on you to prove that there are exceptional circumstances for the state to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence.”
During his bail application, his counsel, advocate Stephanus Johannes Coetzee, said Rodrigues suffered from ailments related to old age.
He told the court his client would plead not guilty to the charges.
Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, said: “As the Timol family, we must thank the director of public prosecutions in Gauteng who, at short notice, assembled a formidable team to ensure that Rodrigues finally appears in court.”
He said Timol’s case is not isolated since there are many anti-apartheid activists whose lives were not accounted for.He added that the reopening of the Timol matter was not to incite racial tensions but to remember fallen heroes and heroines who fought in the struggle against apartheid.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said the Timol matter has brought other similar cases to light, and there are imminent arrests.
“Investigations are ongoing and there is a possibility that more arrests in other matters where anti-apartheid activists were taken through atrocities and brutalised, will be coming forth.”
Timol’s case resurfaced nearly 47 years after he allegedly fell to his death from the 10th-floor window at John Vorster Square (now Johannesburg Central police station).
Rodrigues gave evidence in last year’s reopened inquest into Timol’s death in the Pretoria High Court which replaced the 1972 court’s suicide finding with one of murder.
He was a member of the security branch who dealt with paperwork and administration, and is the last known person to have seen Timol alive before the fateful day.
Rodrigues told the inquest he had “never touched” Timol and declined to write the statement his seniors had allegedly wanted.
He is due back in court on September 18 for a pre-trial conference.