Cape Town – More apartheid-era police officers could be charged and prosecuted for murders of several political activists.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it was also eyeing other unsolved cases committed under apartheid after 80-year-old retired sergeant Joao Rodrigues made his first court appearance for the 1971 murder of Ahmed Timol.
The Timol case has been hailed as historical because it dispelled claims by the apartheid regime that some activists committed suicide at its police stations.
Judge Billy Mothle ruled in the Pretoria High Court last year that Timol was killed by members of the security branch and did not commit suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square 46 years ago.
Mothle overturned a 1972 inquest that claimed Timol jumped to his death.
He recommended the prosecution of Rodrigues, who was present when Timol died and also testified before Mothle.
“Rodrigues, on his own version, participated in the cover-up to conceal the crime of murder as an accessory after the fact, and went on to commit perjury by presenting contradictory evidence before the 1972 and 2017 inquests,” said Mothle.
“He should accordingly be investigated with a view to his prosecution.”
Mothle’s ruling was also lauded by the families of Imam Abdullah Haron and Ashley Kriel. Haron was a prominent community leader, revolutionary and interfaith pioneer in the 1950s and 1960s.
Haron was reported dead after spending four months in police detention in 1969. At the time, police lied that the injuries he sustained were from falling down a flight of stairs at the Maitland police station.
A handcuffed Kriel, from Bonteheuwel, a guerrilla trained in Angola with Umkhonto we Sizwe, was fatally shot in the back aged 20 in Athlone by apartheid security branch policeman Jeffrey Benzien in 1987.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted Benzien amnesty in 1999 despite his not admitting to murder, but claiming self-defence.
The NPA has slapped Rodrigues with charges of murder and defeating the ends of justice.
Rodrigues handed himself over on Monday morning to the same cop shop, now named the Johannesburg Central police station, where Timol and others met their deaths.
Some hours after being charged at the station, he applied for bail at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court.
He cited his old age among grounds for bail.
Magistrate Carlo Labuschagne set his bail at R2000 and transferred the matter to the Johannesburg High Court.
Phindi Mjonondwane, the NPA’s Gauteng spokesperson, told journalists more apartheid-era crimes were being probed.
“We confirm as the NPA that this has brought so many other cases to life. Investigations are ongoing,” she said.
“(There is a) possibility of more arrests in other matters where anti-apartheid activists were taken through atrocities and brutalised.
“We also wish to congratulate the family of Timol for persistently knocking at every door to ensure that this day is realised and for giving hope to other families as well who lost their loved ones without any trace,” Mjonondwane said.
Timol’s nephew Imtiaz Cajee, who fought to have the case looked into, said more crimes by the apartheid security branch should be uncovered.
“We should definitely not forget that Timol is not the only one,” Cajee said.
“We can’t forget the likes of the Cradock Four, the Gugulethu Seven, Matthew Mabelane, Dr Neil Aggett, Nokuthula Simelane, Imam Haron, Suliman “Babla” Saloojee (and) many, many more.”
All these activists and others were believed to have been killed by police. The trial of four officers arrested and charged for Simelane’s murder in 1983 was due to start.
Cajee asked: “Where are the killers responsible for Joe Gqabi, for Dulcie September and those that meticulously planned out the Matola raid in Mozambique in 1981? Where are all those generals and commissioners?”
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, who attended Rodrigues’ bail application, described the case as a “bitter-sweet moment”.
“It’s bitter that we’re looking at a small fish. There are bigger fish that didn’t apply for amnesty and they misled the truth commission.
“But sweet that there’s an action,” Lesufi said.
“We’re hopeful that one day a big fish will come here (to court).
“We want those that issued the instructions. We want those that said we don’t deserve to be human beings.”