by MAHMOOD SANGLAY
FEBRUARY 8, 2019 would have been the 95th birthday of Imam Abdullah Haron, who was martyred on September 27, 1969.
The Imam Abdullah Haron Foundation hosted a special media conference last month coinciding with Imam Haron’s birthday, on February 8, to make two special announcements. The first was of a campaign and series of events to mark the 50th year of commemoration of the Imam’s death in detention.
The second, but more significant announcement, was of the intention of the Haron family to launch an application to re-open the inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of the Imam in police custody after 123 days in detention – hence the theme of the campaign #123 days.
Fatima Haron-Masoet, the youngest daughter of Imam Haron, officially announced the family’s intention to apply for the re-opening of the inquest into her father’s death.
In a moving statement, Haron-Masoet, who was six years old when her father was killed, said her mother, who is now 93 years old, is ‘frail but strong in her determination to find the truth and see that justice is done’.
‘We have decided that we want to have the inquest re-opened so that it can be firmly proved that our father’s death was not the result of an accidental fall down a flight of stairs. After months of torture, he came home to us with extensive bruises and scars on his body.
‘Our parents were married by Muslim rites. Under apartheid, their marriage was not recognised. As a result, my mother became a widow without rights of inheritance and we became her illegitimate children. She lost her home, which she and my dad worked for, and moved into a room with her mother,’ said Haron-Masoet.
The announcements were particularly significant in their inclusion of representatives of other families who had similarly been victims of the apartheid government.
The campaign and series of events announced at the media conference specifically focuses on the seven deaths in detention in 1969, namely that of Nicodemus Kgoathe on February 4, Solomon Modipane on February 28, James Lenkoe on March 10, Caleb Mayekiso on June 1, Michael Shivute on June 17 and Jacob Monakgotla on September 10. Imam Haron’s was the last death in detention in 1969, on September 27.
Some members of the Haron family represented the foundation at the conference. The members of the foundation are the children of the Imam, Professor Muhammed Haron, Shamela Shamis, Fatiema Haron-Masoet as well as the Imam’s grandson, Khalid Shamis.
However, one relative of the other six activists killed in 1969 was also present, namely Amon Kgoathe, the son of Nicodemus Kgoathe. According to Kgoathe, his father was falsely implicated in an arson attack in 1968 on the tribal office in Hebron, in the North West. His father was arrested, tortured and killed.
Kgoathe said he and his family are discontented with the relief that was offered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because no one took responsibility for the death of his father. He and his family seek justice and closure.
The panel of speakers also included Imtiaz Cajee, nephew of Ahmed Timol, killed in 1971, Nkosinathi Biko, son of the black consciousness activist Steve Bantu Biko, who was killed in 1977, and Lukhanyo Calata, son of Fort Calata, one of the Cradock Four who were killed in 1985.
The speakers generally decried the corruption in government and the private sector as an affront to the sacrifices made by all slain anti-apartheid activists. They regard the lack of accountability for apartheid crimes as part of the culture of corruption today.
Calata directly addressed the deputy secretary general of the ANC, Jessie Duarte, who was present at the conference. He appealed to her on behalf of the families of activists who were ‘murdered by the apartheid government’ to serve them with justice.
The speakers were also critical of the obstruction, particularly during the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, of attempts to re-open inquests into the deaths of the slain activists in their families.
Biko said there is now ‘renewed energy’ to re-open the files that have been classified and that there is some hope for truth and justice even decades after their loved ones had been killed.
The reopened inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol led to a court finding late last year that he had not committed suicide and that Joao Rodrigues was guilty for his role in the death of Timol. In the interim, Rodrigues has applied for a permanent stay of prosecution. Cajee, however, said that they are opposing the application.
Achmad Cassiem, a former detainee on Robben Island for five years, announced at the conference that he has in his possession evidence that will aid a fresh inquest into the death of Imam Haron. He offered to hand this evidence to the legal team assisting the Haron family with the application to re-open the inquest.
Casssiem Khan, convenor of the committee managing the campaign and hosting the events under the auspices of the Imam Haron Foundation, provided an overview of activities planned by the committee.
Khan said that they are planning a series of major events between May 28 and September 27. This period of just over four months and exactly 123 days is the time Imam Haron was held incommunicado.
The commemorative events are designed to be inclusive in its composition and in reaching out to all South Africans, and to uphold the values espoused by the Imam.
Veteran journalist and activist, Zubeida Jaffer, chaired the media conference that was also attended by James Matthews, poet and colleague of late Imam Haron, Judge Siraj Desai, Advocate Yasmin Sooka, Advocate Howard Varney and Mary Burton. The last mentioned is a member of the Imam Abdullah Haron Education Trust whose members were also present in support of the foundation and its programme of activities.
Several other high ranking political leaders, business professionals and community leaders were in attendance.