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South Africa: Joao Rodrigues v National Director of Public Prosecutions and Others (Timol case)

On 28 and 29 March 2019, the High Court in Pretoria will hear the criminal case of Rodrigues v National Director of Public Prosecutions (case number: 76755/18). Joao Rodrigues (“the Applicant”), a former member of the Security Branch under the apartheid regime, is accused to have murdered Ahmed Timol on 27 October 1971. SALC intervened as an amicus curiae in response to a directive issued by the Judge President of the High Court in this matter. SALC submits that the facts in this matter also justify an indictment for crimes against humanity and not only of a single murder. In this regard SALC seeks a legal re-characterisation of the charge against Rodrigues to acknowledge and recognise that apartheid has been recognised as a crime against humanity and that he should be charged with ‘crimes against humanity of apartheid’.

Background Information

A first inquest in 1972 concluded that Mr. Timol committed suicide when he jumped out of 10th floor of the John Vorster Square. The Court concluded that ‘no living person was responsible for his death’ and that Mr. Timol was treated in a civilised and humane manner by the Security Branch.

The inquest was however re-opened by the High Court of Pretoria in 2017. The Court concluded that there was a cover up of the death of Mr. Timol and that he was pushed out or made to jump while he was in company of members of the Security Branch. The High Court further recommended an investigation with a view to prosecute the Applicant who made contradictory statements before the inquests in 1972 and 2017. The 2017 inquest illustrates the involvement of the Applicant and two other interrogators in the murder of Mr. Timol. The National Prosecuting Authority issued an indictment against the Applicant in July 2018. The Applicant was charged with murder as well as defeating and/or obstructing the administration of justice. Apart from denying any involvement in the murder of Mr. Timol, the Applicant argues that the pending criminal proceedings violate his constitutional right to a fair trial which he bases on the alleged delay of proceedings.

SALC’s Submission

The factual assessment in the indictment illustrate a clear link between the system of apartheid, the death of Mr. Timol and the conduct by the Applicant. Based on the same facts that are part of the indictment, SALC’s submission seeks a legal characterisation that is not only limited to the single crime of murder but also includes:

crimes against humanity of apartheid;

or alternatively crimes against humanity of murder and/or

crimes against humanity of persecution.

SALC places these submissions before the High Court of Pretoria to assist the court to decide whether it will itself make any changes to the legal characterisation of the indictment or whether it motivates the prosecution to reconsider and review its current legal characterisation in the indictment.

International institutions like the General Assembly or Security Council of the United Nations have condemned the system of apartheid as racial discrimination repugnant to human dignity, in violation of international law and characterised apartheid as a cognisable offence under crimes against humanity since 1965. In this respect, the crime of crimes against humanity constituted binding international law on South Africa in 1971 to the same extent as it does today. Crimes of such gravity do not fall under any prescription by South African or international law. Therefore, a crime that has been committed 47 years ago can still be prosecuted today.

On 6 September 2021, Rodrigues passed away which brought an end to his trial. The matter was removed from the court role on 30 September 2021.

Court papers:

Applicant (Joao Rodrigues):

Applicant’s Notice of motion and Founding Affidavit

Applicant’s answering affidavit to First Respondent

Applicant’s answering affidavit to Second Respondent

Applicant’s answering affidavit to Fourth Respondent

First Respondent (The National Director of Public Prosecutions):

First Respondent’s Heads of Argument

First Respondent’s Supplementary Affidavit

Supporting Affidavit on behalf of First Respondent

First Respondent’s Answering Affidavit (1)

First Respondent’s Answering Affidavit (2)

Second Respondent (The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services):

Second Respondent’s Answering Affidavit

Third Respondent (The Minister of Police):

Third Respondent’s Heads of Argument

Fourth Respondent (Imtiaz Cajee):

Fourth Respondent’s Head of Argument

Fourth Respondent’s Practice Note

Fourth Respondent’s Supplementary Affidavit

Fourth Respondent’s Answering Affidavit


News Releases
The Supreme Court of Appeal on 21 June 2021 dismissed the appeal by Joao Rodrigue.
The Supreme Court of Appeal on 6 November 2020 heard the case of Joao Rodrigues v National Director of Public  Prosecutions and Others.
19 Oct 2020 Media Advisory: Joao Rodrigues v National Director of Public Prosecutions.
The High Court on the 3 June 2019 dismissed police officer’s application to cease prosecution.

Case in the News
30 Sep 2021 Judge officially strikes case of Ahmed Timol’s death off the court roll.
7 Sep 2021 Former apartheid policeman Joao Rodrigues dies with secrets about Ahmed Timol’s death.
29 Jan 2021 The recently renewed NPA should show its teeth.
21 Feb 2020 South Africa, apartheid, crimes against humanity and the rule of law: Quo Vadis?
16 Nov 2020 Joao Rodrigues, apartheid-era crimes and the question of a blanket amnesty.
3 June 2019 Washington Post article on apartheid-era prosecutions.
9 Apr 2019 Prosecuting apatheid atrocities-why an indictment for single murder in the Ahmed Timol case is not enough

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