South Africa: Ruling opens way for apartheid-era prosecutions

Joao Rodrigues to stand trial for Ahmed Timol murder
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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A former South African police officer will face trial over the 1971 killing of an anti-apartheid activist after a court ruling that could lead to the prosecution of similar crimes.

An inquiry had been reopened into the death of Ahmed Timol, who police said jumped to his death from a police station where opponents of white minority rule were often held.

Timol’s family argued he was tortured and killed. A court agreed, paving the way for Rodrigues to face trial.

A National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman says Monday’s ruling affirms that people who committed crimes during the apartheid era cannot dodge prosecution on the basis of how long ago the crimes took place.

Joao Rodrigues’s failed application for a permanent stay of prosecution for allegedly murdering activist Ahmed Timol in 1971 has been hailed as a boost for justice for the country’s painful past.

On Monday morning at the South Gauteng High Court, Judge Seun Moshidi ruled that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could go ahead and prosecute Rodrigues for allegedly been part of the brutal murder of Timol.

The anti-apartheid activist was thrown out of a 10th-story window of the notorious John Vorster police station, now known as Johannesburg Central police station, in October 1971.

In his main arguments for a stay of prosecution, Rodrigues had said the length of time since Timol’s death, his age (80) and his memory loss would preclude the interest of justice should he be tried for the murder.

However, Judge Moshidi, reading from a full-bench judgement, dismissed those arguments, saying that “the interest of justice and society’s need for accountability… mitigated against granting a permanent stay of prosecution”.

The judge said that this was a “difficult case” as “it forces us to confront our painful past”, and that Rodrigues’s claims to memory loss and his advanced age could be argued at the sentencing stage, should the matter reach that phase.

“This case shows that justice will not be compromised,” Judge Moshidi said.

Imtiaz Cajee, Timol’s nephew who has waged a decades-long fight on behalf of his family for justice for his uncle, expressed joy at Rodrigues’s application dismissal, challenging the NPA to prosecute other alleged apartheid killers.

Phindi Mjonondwane, spokesperson for the Gauteng NPA, said Rodrigues would face premeditated murder and defeating the ends of justice charges but that the trial date had not yet been set.

“His (Rodrigues’s) lawyers have said they want to study today’s judgement and indicate whether or not they will appeal it. They have 14 days to lodge an appeal.

“So, if they appeal, we cannot go to trial just yet; we have to exhaust that process,” Mjonondwane said.

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