It seems, on the face of it, to be harsh, or even cruel, to subject an 80-year-old man – who claims to have memory problems – to a murder trial for a killing which happened almost 50 years ago.
That is what former police officer Joao Rodrigues faces after the High Court in Johannesburg this week rejected his application for a stay of prosecution for the murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol.
Timol fell to his death from a 10th-storey building at the then John Vorster Square police headquarters in Johannesburg in 1971, in what authorities claimed was a suicide. He had been under interrogation.
Rodrigues will stand accused of having pushed Timol out of the window. Undoubtedly, it will be cruel to subject an old man to the trial – but it would be even more cruel to deny justice to Timol’s relatives, who have waited for closure and peace, not vengeance, for almost five decades.
Whatever the outcome, the trial will emphasise that time will not erase the need for justice for many whose families suffered under apartheid. And it will be a reminder to those who hanker after the good old days that those days were evil in many respects.