YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO FACE JUS­TICE

The Sunday Independent - - GOVERNMENT - SHAN­NON EBRAHIM shan­non.ebrahim@inl.co.za

NINETY-some­thing-year-olds world­wide are be­ing tried for their po­lit­i­cal crimes, so what makes Joao Ro­drigues think he is too old to face the mu­sic?

The arguments he puts for­ward in an ef­fort to es­cape pros­e­cu­tion is that he is 79, trav­el­ling to Jo­han­nes­burg from Pre­to­ria for the trial is tir­ing, he walks with the aid of a walk­ing stick, has di­a­betes and a heart con­di­tion, a fad­ing mem­ory, and should have been tried ear­lier. I would like to in­tro­duce him to an 81-year-old I know who is work­ing two jobs, trav­el­ling over­seas reg­u­larly and never com­plains.

But more to the point, there have been a se­ries of 90-year-olds in the me­dia lately who are fac­ing trial for their role in crimes com­mit­ted as long as 78 years ago. This month a 94-year-old for­mer SS guard faces trial for his com­plic­ity in mass mur­der in a con­cen­tra­tion camp in Stut­thof – seven decades af­ter World War II. Cur­rently, 28 pros­e­cu­tions are un­der way of Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp guards, most of them over 90.

Four months ago, eight re­tired Chilean mil­i­tary of­fi­cers were sen­tenced to 15 years in prison for a mur­der com­mit­ted 45 years ago. Sim­i­larly, this year four for­mer high-rank­ing Gu­atemalan mil­i­tary of­fi­cers were sen­tenced to 58 years in prison for forced dis­ap­pear­ances and sex­ual abuse com­mit­ted in 1981. In 2016, an Ar­gen­tine Air Force bri­gadier, Omar Graf­figna, at the age of 90, went on trial for forced dis­ap­pear­ances.

The mes­sage th­ese cases are send­ing is that you are never too old to face jus­tice, and this is a warn­ing to all those who think they will get away with crimes against hu­man­ity with the pas­sage of time, and na­tional pro­cesses of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Our rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process was ar­guably over gen­er­ous in of­fer­ing apartheid killers amnesty, if they gave a full dis­clo­sure of their crimes. The process was in­her­ently flawed in that many of the spe­cial branch mur­ders did not fully dis­close their crimes or they gave in­ac­cu­rate ver­sions of what hap­pened, and still re­ceived amnesty, which went against the grain of amnesty in re­turn for the truth.

Ro­drigues may not have been a se­nior rank­ing mil­i­tary of­fi­cer or a con­cen­tra­tion camp guard com­plicit in the mur­der of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, but that does not ab­solve him of com­plic­ity in a bru­tal apartheid-era mur­der, and his in­ten­tional cover-up over decades.

He was given fair warn­ing, both at the time of the TRC and by Judge Billy Mothle in the Ti­mol in­quest last year, that if he came clean and told the truth, he could es­cape pros­e­cu­tion for his role in the crime, but at every op­por­tu­nity he stuck to the story the Spe­cial Branch con­cocted to cover up Ahmed Ti­mol’s mur­der at John Vorster Square in 1971.

The judge found that not only had he per­jured him­self in the orig­i­nal 1971 in­quest, and again in the 2017 in­quest, but he had ob­structed and de­feated the ends of jus­tice. The Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity be­lieves they have enough ev­i­dence to prove his com­plic­ity in Ti­mol’s mur­der.

The pros­e­cu­tion of Ro­drigues is sig­nif­i­cant, not only for the sake of jus­tice and Ti­mol’s fam­ily, but it sets a prece­dent in terms of the pros­e­cu­tion of other mem­bers of the Spe­cial Branch who tor­tured and mur­dered anti-apartheid ac­tivists and never owned up to their crimes be­fore the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.

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