‘No place in justice system for lynch parties,’ says Judge
“This country doesn’t need to be seen as a lynching country”, “what we need to avoid at all costs is [people looking for] a photo-shoot [opportunity]” and “we can’t gang up on Rodrigues” were among the many similar comments made by Judge Ramarumo Monama at the South Gauteng (Johannesburg) high court this morning (December 19).
He was presiding at the applications by the family of Ahmed Timol, on the one hand, and the family of Hoosen Haffejee, represented by Haffejee’s sister, Sarah Lall, to be allowed to “intervene” and make submissions to the trial of Joao Rodrigues, who was charged with the murder of Timol by the National Prosecuting Authority on 18 September 2018.
The NPA laid the charges following the October 2017 judgment by Judge Billy Mothle that the original 1971 inquest finding that Timol had committed suicide should be reversed and that Timol had actually been murdered. Subsequent to the charges being laid, Rodrigues applied for a permanent stay of prosecution on the basis that his constitutional rights had been violated.
Judge Monama has not yet ruled on Rodrigues’ application for a permanent stay – replying papers are still being traded by the NPA and Rodrigues’ defence team – but Judge Monama indicated today that he wished the Rodrigues trial to start on January 28.
In the meantime, the Timol family and Lall have applied to be allowed to take part in the proceedings – Lall on the basis that it is widely believed that a reopening of the inquest into the death of her brother Hoosen Haffejee, similar to the one regarding Timol, is set to begin next year.
Forty-one years ago Haffejee, a 26-year-old dentist, was found hanged with his own trousers in a cell in Durban’s Brighton Beach police station. Notwithstanding evidence that he had just undergone 20 hours of interrogation at the hands of the Security Branch, an inquest court found that he had hanged himself. Evidence was also led at the inquest that Haffejee’s body was covered in bruises, cuts and abrasions and his inner arms deeply punctured with twin round marks.
For these reasons, Lall’s legal representatives argued, she should be allowed to give evidence regarding Rodrigues’ arguments that his constitutional rights had been abused. His trial would probably be a precedent-setting one and the many families of those allegedly murdered by the security police were all still awaiting “closure” – and Rodrigues should therefore “not be allowed” to have his prosecution stayed. There are said to be 70 other families of activists who died in detention.
The applications by the Timol family and Lall were not opposed by Rodrigues. Judge Monama found no difficulty in allowing the Timol family, represented by his nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, being part of the proceedings.
But Judge Monama gave Lall’s legal representative, Anwar Jessop of Anwar Suleman Jessop attorneys, a torrid time. Judge Monama said that prosecutions had to be left to the NPA and that, although he sympathized with the matter of Haffejee, the point about the charges against Rodrigues were that they were based on a clear legal finding.
“We can’t take actions without there having been material findings. The NDPP has the mandate to prosecute. Our actions must emanate from the rule of law. We can’t call each and every one [even if they have a similar matter or are connected in some way to the case at hand].
“To subject the accused [Rodrigues] to all and sundry is not fairness. We cannot gang up on Rodrigues. This country can’t be seen as a lynching country. Isn’t what you are suggesting in the nature of something of a lynch mob? We cannot be a mob. And we have got to avoid at all costs an opportunity for a photo-shoot.”
Jessop replied that the motivation for his client’s application was not to be part of a photo-shoot, but was a heart-felt request and in the interests of all those who had lost family members in detention.
Judge Monama also remarked, when Jaap Cilliers SC (for Rodrigues) rose to make some points of law – even though Rodrigues was not opposing the applications – that he did not understand why there were so many legal representatives repeating points already made, especially by him, the judge.
“Perhaps I have not articulated my views clearly enough. In any case, all of this is at the taxpayer’s expense and I think we should cut down on repeating ourselves.”
Judge Monama issued an ex tempore judgment that the Timol family may take part in the forthcoming proceedings but the Haffejee family could not.
After the proceedings, Jessop said that, notwithstanding the judge’s decision, he felt he had made his point and Lall’s voice had been heard in connection with the Rodrigues matter.