Ahmed Timol case: Former apartheid cop tells SCA that State deliberately delayed case

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Former security branch police sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues is seen during his appearance at the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court in relation to the murder of slain activist Ahmed Timol. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)
Former security branch police sergeant Joao Jan Rodrigues is seen during his appearance at the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court in relation to the murder of slain activist Ahmed Timol. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)
  • The SCA has reserved judgment in the leave to appeal application by former apartheid security branch officer Joao Rodrigues.
  • Rodrigues was charged with the 1971 murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol in police custody.
  • A 2017 inquest by Judge Billy Mothle reversed a 1972 inquest which ruled Timol's death as suicide. 

Joao Rodrigues, who faces a charge of murdering anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol 47 years ago, has argued that the delay in the case was not systemic, but rather deliberate.

Rodrigues’s lawyer, Jaap Cilliers, presented this argument before a virtual sitting of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on Friday in an application for leave to appeal the dismissal of a permanent stay of prosecution application by the Gauteng High Court last year. 

"These respondents (the State) deliberately withheld extremely important facts from the court relating to the reason for the lengthy delay and serious political interference in prosecutions of this nature in their initial answering papers," said Cilliers. 

During proceedings, Cilliers also accused the offices of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) and the Minister of Justice of misleading the courts.  

"They did not disclose the facts of the case. They mislead the court with silence by not allowing the court access to true and material facts; they proceeded with the worst type of conduct. We still don’t have knowledge of the full details on what led to the delay from the minister of justice," he said. 

Cilliers argued that prosecution of the case would infringe on Rodrigues’ constitutional right to have the trial begin and conclude without "unreasonable delay" and his right to challenge the evidence effectively. 

Inquest into death

Rodrigues, 81, was charged with Timol’s murder in 2018 after a second inquest ruled that Timol's death was not suicide. Timol died in 1971 after falling from the 10th floor of the then John Vorster Square police station, now known as the Johannesburg central police station, where he had been detained.

At the time of Timol’s death, Rodrigues worked as a security branch officer. The inquest, led by Judge Billy Mothle, recommended that Rodrigues be investigated for perjury. Cilliers questioned the "improper" decision to charge Rodrigues with murder despite that not being a recommendation of the inquest. 

In its heads of argument the NDPP said in response: "Whilst it is correct that the inquest did not conclude that the applicant unlawfully and intentionally killed Mr Timol, it is the function of the NDPP and not the inquest court to decide based on the available evidence as to how the applicant must be charged," it said.

"The mere fact that the NDPP has decided to charge the applicant with murder does not on its own mean that the prosecution is driven by an improper motive and that there is a basis for a permanent stay of prosecution," they added. 

Dawie Joubert SC, who represented the NDDP, argued that the manner in which Rodrigues' application was launched was "ill-thought-through" and that there were other legal avenues to address Rodrigues' concerns while the case continues in trial.

Judgment was reserved.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
When planning for the Black Friday sales do you:
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Save, research and plan ahead, preparing to make the most of it?
7% - 989 votes
Wait and see what looks like a good deal on the day?
14% - 1878 votes
Have no interest in spending more money this year?
79% - 10552 votes
Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo