south africa makes way for prosecution of apartheid crimes

June 5, 2019
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They say that the truth is buried with the bodies. The truth of what transpired during apartheid South Africa was partly uncovered in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), where officers of the apartheid government would admit the crimes they committed against Black activists and civilians in exchange for amnesty if the crimes were proven to be politically motivated. The intent of the TRC was to bring justice to the families of those lost to the insidious force that was the apartheid police. Many believe it allowed for white supremacists and their Black collaborators to evade justice.

For all the TRC set out to do, there were many things it could not achieve because even it couldn’t address almost 40 years of the anti-Blackness political policy. What it did do was refer 300 cases to the National Prosecuting Authority for investigation, according to TRC Commissioner Yasmin Sooka. Those cases involved individuals who were not granted amnesty and people who did not bother applying for it. Apartheid murderers were and still are walking free because racism was the law — an ideology sanctioned and enforced by the state. It was hate-fueled violence and too many of the perpetrators walked free to carry the ideology into democracy.

The case for justice seemed open and shut after the TRC hearings, but the torture and murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol by officer Joao Rodrigues is shaping up to be the reckoning for murderous apartheid currently players still roaming free. Timol died in 1971 after he fell from the 10th floor of the John Vorster Square police station in central Johannesburg, according to the Sunday Times. The initial report of the incident records Timol’s death as a suicide but a re-opened inquest in 2017 revealed that the activist was pushed.

John Vorster was an infamous station, as it often held challengers of white minority rule, and was tied to many “suicides” and disappearances to those deemed enemies of the apartheid state. The inquest also recommended that Rodrigues, who worked at John Vorster at the time, stand trial and he will do so on June 28th.  The former policeman applied for a stay of prosecution but was denied, which pleased the Timol family.

The precedent this will set is enormous, especially considering how little faith Black South Africans had that justice would be served given the amount of time that has passed. Rodriguez is 80 years old and the crime he might go to jail for was committed almost 50 years ago. Rodrigues and men like him walked around with comfort that every day that passed was another further away from facing justice for their crimes. There is a concern shared by former commissioner Sooka that perpetrators are dying and many cases still haven’t resulted in investigations or arrests. The ticking clock on Rodrigues means the Timol family has a fast-approaching deadline if they are to receive the justice they are owed.

“This is a race against time. For many families, this is not just a 20-year wait. This has been going on for the past 40 years,” said Sooka.

For obvious reasons, the most treacherous parts of apartheid are omitted or erased. It’s the willful ignorance imparted as a gift from white supremacy. South Africa’s democracy is living on borrowed time and I wish I was exaggerating. Undoing racial injustice means addressing it with the full force of its tyranny. It means prosecuting those who enforced it, so the basic level understanding that people died and are still scared can etch its way into the psyche of white South Africa. Black South Africans are tired of being told to get over a crime against humanity that no one properly apologized for. DeKlerk can keep his words. We want justice — the kind that can shake the very essence of whiteness into understanding that it, it may own everything, but we also mean business. The Timol family means business because they have been living with this for 50 years and they are one family that represent thousands still searching for closure. Rodrigues got to live his life — he owes his pound of flesh. They all do.