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Timol case postponed as Rodrigues awaits judgment in his bid for a permanent stay of prosecution

Joao Rodrigues, the apartheid-era policeman implicated in the murder of slain activist Ahmed Timol, at the Johannesburg magistrate's court on July 30 2018.
Joao Rodrigues, the apartheid-era policeman implicated in the murder of slain activist Ahmed Timol, at the Johannesburg magistrate's court on July 30 2018.

Joao Rodrigues, the man accused of being involved in the murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol in 1971, appeared briefly at the high court in Johannesburg on Monday.

The trial was due to begin but was postponed to May 9.

This will allow the full bench that heard Rodrigues' application for a permanent stay of prosecution on March 28 and 29, to deliver judgment.

If the application is successful, Rodrigues will not be prosecuted.

However, if the application is unsuccessful, a trial date will be set for the criminal matter.

Rodrigues had applied for a permanent stay of prosecution, arguing that the prosecution would infringe on his right to have a trial begin and be concluded without unreasonable delay. But in a response filed at the Johannesburg high court in February, Timol's nephew Imtiaaz Cajee said no complaint about a delay, prejudice or violation of fair trial rights could be raised by Rodrigues, given that the criminal proceedings had commenced only in June 2018.

The judgment in the permanent stay of prosecution matter will have implications beyond Rodrigues. There are other former members of the apartheid-era security forces who perpetrated grievous crimes who did not approach the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for amnesty or did but had their amnesty applications declined.

The TRC‚ in its final report published in 1999‚ recommended 300 cases for further investigation.

The charging of Rodrigues follows the reopening in 2018 of the inquest into Timol's death from a fall from the 10th floor of the then John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg.

The original inquest in 1972 concluded that Timol had committed suicide and that no person alive was responsible for his death.

However‚ his family obtained further evidence and approached the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the inquest to be reopened.

In the reopened inquest‚ Judge Billy Mothle found that Timol’s death was caused by him being pushed from the 10th floor of the building.

Mothle said Rodrigues‚ according to his own version‚ had participated in a cover-up to conceal the crime of murder as an accessory after the fact. Mothle said Rodrigues went on to commit perjury by presenting contradictory evidence before the 1972 and 2017 inquests.

Timol was one of 73 activists who died in police custody between 1963 and 1990. Police at the time ascribed all the deaths to suicide or accidents.

Timol's inquest was the first of these cases to be re-opened by the state.

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