An old man escapes ANC justice

Jeremy Gordin writes on the death of Timol-accused Jan Rodrigues

João (Jan) Rodrigues, formerly a clerk in the security police who was charged with the 1971 murder of Ahmed Timol in July 2018 (47 years later)died on Monday evening, 6th September, at his Wonderboom South home in Pretoria.

According to his attorney, Ben Minnaar, 82-year-old Rodrigues “had spent a couple of weeks in hospital. After the lobe of his one lung was removed, he had difficulty breathing and spent some time in the intensive care unit. He went home and was home for a week or two. He was recuperating and feeling stronger, [but] had a setback and passed away”.

Following the October 2017 verdict of the re-opened inquest into the death of Timol, who perished on 27 October 1971 at John Vorster Square Police Station, Rodrigues was charged in July 2018 with murder and defeating and/or obstructing the administration of justice. Rodrigues applied for these charges to be set aside or cancelled.

His application was refused by a full bench of the Gauteng High Court. Rodrigues then applied to the Supreme Court of Appeal to set aside the High Court decision. This was refused on June 21, 2021, and Rodrigues then applied to the Constitutional Court to set aside the SCA’s judgment and to get a stay of prosecution (have the case dropped). During this time, the criminal trial of Rodrigues was, for obvious reasons, repeatedly postponed.

Minnaar has said that, although the criminal trial obviously won’t continue now, he hopes the application to the Concourt will still be heard. It’s puzzling to understand how this will happen, especially as Rodrigues’ legal costs were being funded by SAPS [i], of which he was a member when he allegedly murdered Timol, and SAPS would presumably not want to continue paying. But why Minnaar hopes the Concourt matter will still be heard is a significant issue, to which I’ll return.

It also needs to be noted that, in the immediate wake of Rodrigues’ appearance at the reopened inquest [ii], his daughter Tilana Stander spoke out about the verbal, physical and sexual abuse she suffered during her childhood at the hands of her father and then instituted criminal charges against him.

Rodrigues admitted in a letter to court that he had sexually abused her, and, in terms of mediation procedures, his daughter agreed that charges be dropped against her father, given that he admitted what he had done. “He acknowledged everything that I put in my affidavit, and I am just glad that I could get this over and done with,” Stander has reportedly said.

The two points I want to make is that Rodrigues’ acknowledged behaviour vis-à-vis his daughter had nothing to do with the death of Timol; and, secondly, as best as is known, Rodrigues has not at any time changed the evidence he gave at the reopened inquest into Timol’s death (or, in any substantial manner, at the original one of 1972). In brief, Rodrigues cannot and should not be adjudged guilty of murder.

And yet the “narrative” continues.

“Rodrigues’ death before he could be tried was not unexpected because the tactic has always been to delay, and in essence he did get away with murder,” Imtiaz Cajee said on Tuesday.

Cajee has campaigned indefatigably since 1998, if not before, to have the inquest into his uncle’s death reopened – and, as I have written previously, Cajee should be saluted for this. As I also wrote, it is largely attributable to Cajee that the death of Timol has become “a sacred touchstone – you impinge at your peril on the memory of Timol, on the narrative of what was done to him, as presented in the state’s case against Rodrigues”.

But the hard truth is that Rodrigues has not been found guilty of anything. Additionally, as has been argued by James Myburgh and me in at least six articles on Politicsweb [iii], there remain deeply worrying aspects about the evidence led and the findings made by Judge Billy Mothle at the reopened inquest.

Having studied the “Timol case” as hard as we could, we could not conclude, as the NPA alleged, that Rodrigues threw Timol through the window of room 1026, on the tenth floor of John Vorster Square Police Station. The worst, in our view, that could come out of a trial (for Rodrigues) was that he was party to a cover-up – that he was told by the superior officers either to hold back or lie about certain of the events leading to Timol’s death. This would make him guilty of obstructing justice. But perjury is not murder.

But there is a reason why Minnaar, on the one hand, and Cajee, on the other, are keen on Rodrigues’ matter going ahead at the Concourt.

Both “parties” are keen on the court setting a precedent that would – from Cajee’s point-of-view – stop other implicated apartheid-era policemen from “using endless legal ploys to stall justice”; and that will, from Minnaar’s point of view, vindicate the defence’s approach in the Rodrigues matter, which was that Rodrigues had obviously benefitted from an “amnesty” which had been arranged by the then ANC government, in terms of which pre-1994 “perpetrators” would be left alone [iv].

What is at play here is that there could soon well be a number of further prosecutions of similar cases involving alleged offences perpetrated during the apartheid era by police officers, who did not seek amnesty for the offences from the TRC.

As Cajee has said recently, a Concourt ruling on Rodrigues would be “very significant” in the reopened inquests of other anti-apartheid activists, including for example Neil Aggett, Ernest Dipale, and Hoosen Haffejee, currently being heard in the lower courts. There are also about another 300 similar cases that were referred to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission back in 2003, but of which only a handful has come before the courts [v].

From the point-of-view of Minnaar and Rodrigues’ counsel, JG “Jaap” Cilliers SC, they are hoping to head off at the pass any similar case. They are trying to “legalise” the secret amnesty deal or, at worst, buy a few more years for it.

Cajee has recently said that “It is time that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) be confronted directly on the conduct and behaviour of their members sitting in the priority crimes unit, specifically advocates Chris Macadam and JP (Torie) Pretorius. In 2019 the full bench of the South Gauteng High court was very clear that these two advocates should be investigated by the National Director of Public Prosecutions. But today they remain in those offices – positions they’ve held since 2003”.

For what has emerged from the various Rodrigues court actions is that there was indeed “a deal” done – NPA prosecutors were “informally” instructed, in about 2003, to abide by an agreement obviously cobbled together by the ANC leadership and the security force generals and commanders of the previous government (or their proxies). This “agreement” was that once the TRC was over, there would be no more chasing so-called human rights abuses.

The reason for this agreement was neither a humanitarian one nor a desire to let bygones be bygones but stemmed from the old regime’s security personnel knowing a great many of the “secrets” of those in government, including possibly that there were those in the new seats of power who had one “collaborated” with, or even spied for, the old regime. Above all, it is common cause that among the cases never acted on by the TRC or anyone else were those “human rights abuses” carried out by ANC members, some of whom are still alive.

The decision not to go after certain people is called realpolitik and clearly there were those in the ANC who decided it was the lesser of two evils. Doubtless it was – and is – also a tragedy for a number of families.

But to traduce the name of an old man, who was apparently not guilty of anything but being in the wrong place at the wrong time and of being a white cop in 1971 – even if he’s now dead, and albeit in the pursuit of “justice” – does not smell at all good to me. 


[i] According to Ufrieda Ho in Daily Maverick, it was only after a Promotion of Access to Information Act application made in May 2019 by Imtiaz Cajee that the Department of Justice revealed that the legal costs in Rodrigues’ case at that point stood at more than R3,5-million.

[ii] It’s understood that one of the reasons “making it possible” for Rodrigues to appear at the reopened inquest was that his daughter had told Imtiaz Cajee of Rodrigues’ whereabouts – of which the “state” was apparently unaware. Why this was so is unclear; Rodrigues had been living at the same address for decades.

[iii] The Ahmed Timol case (I)

Salim Essop's ordeal (II)

The curious case of Quentin Jacobsen (III)

Ahmed Timol: What the pathologists found (IV)

Ahmed Timol and the mystery of motive (V)

Ahmed Timol: The prosecution of Jan Rodrigues (VI)

[iv] It is beside the point now, and not germane to this article, but in my view Rodrigues’ role was probably adjudged to be so minor, or the Timol case was adjudged to be as per the verdict of the original inquest (Timol committed suicide), that Rodrigues probably never figured on any “amnesty” list or during discussions about it. It seems unlikely that the Mbeki presidency would have obstructed an investigation in this particular case, given that Essop and Aziz Pahad were close family friends of the Timols.

[v] The families of the Cradock Four, Nokuthula Simelane, Imam Haron, Matthew Mabelane, and Caiphus Nyoka, are among those who are also campaigning “for justice” and “closure”.