The inquest into the killing of Imam Abdullah Haron opened in the Cape Town High Court today, November 7, 2022. CASSIEM KHAN sketches the process from the killing of the Imam on September 27, 1969 and the inquest held by the apartheid regime in 1970 to the new inquest. He also reports on the dhikr (spiritual gathering) that was held by the Haron family on the eve of the hearing.
IN 1970 the apartheid regime held an inquest into the death in detention of Imam Abdullah Haron. The Imam of the Al-Jaamia Masjid in Stegman Road, Claremont was detained was detained by the regime’s security police on May 28, 1969. He was kept in solitary confinement for 123 days until his death on September 27, 1969 while in police custody.
The autopsy that followed Imam Haron’s death revealed 28 bruises on his body, mainly on the legs, two broken ribs and bleeding of the spine and his stomach was empty.
An inquest was held in 1970 presided by Magistrate JSP Kuhn who found that no one could be held responsible and that the death occurred following injuries sustained from a fall down a flight of stairs. This was despite overwhelming evidence that pointed to the Imam being murdered.
The 1970 inquest added insult to injury by dismissing the killing of a religious leader, a husband and a father as an accidental fall down the stairs. As if the loss was not enough to live with for 53 painful years, the family was never afforded the truth of how exactly the bruises, broken bones, internal bleeding and eventually the death occurred.
Today’s proceedings are not the start of a re-inquest; it is a new inquest that will present evidence retrieved from the archives to Judge Daniel Mafeleu Thulare from November 7 to 18. Advocate Howard Varney and Advocate Naefa Khan will lead the evidence and call on family members, associates of the Imam, investigating officers and former political prisoners that had similarly experienced the brutality that the Imam was subjected to by his torturers. The inquest will also include in loco inspections at the Cape Town Central Police Station and Maitland Police Station, where Imam Haron was held during his period of detention.
On Sunday November 6 the children of Imam Haron gathered their family, friends and some supporters to spiritually prepare themselves for the new inquest into the 1969 killing of their father. This preparation took the form of a traditional Cape dhikr or spiritual invocation led by Imam Abdul Rashied Omar of the Claremont Main Road Mosque. Imam Haron had led his community in reciting this dhikr, especially on the occasion of the passing of their loved ones. On Sunday, the dhikr was in his memory; it was to give strength to his children who would be reliving their personal and family trauma.
Professor Muhammed Haron, the Imam’s son, welcomed those gathered and linked the dhikr’s significance to his father’s last days. The Imam was a profoundly spiritual man. It was from the recitation of the Quran and dhikr that he found his focus, determination and fortitude to resist his torturers’ attempts to gain cooperation to reveal the names and activities of others associated with the Imam.
The Imam was arrested under the Terrorism Act, and the security police had a free hand to crush any opponents of the apartheid system brutally. The security police refused clothing and food the family took for him on September 17 to 19. These were the days Muhammed believed his father was being severely tortured after months of detention, refusing to divulge any information.
The family expressed their gratitude for all those who attended the gathering and especially noted the role of retired Judge Siraj Desai, who was also present at the gathering.
Judge Desai met with the widow of Imam Haron, Galiema Haron, in late 2018 in his capacity as Deputy Chairperson of the Foundation for Human Rights and spoke of the possibility of a new inquest. Mrs Haron gave her support and this was the start of an arduous process of drafting a memorandum.
The memorandum was accepted by the head of the National Prosecuting Authority in the Western Cape, Advocate Rodney De Kock, in December 2019 as having sufficient merit. This memorandum was then sent for verification to the Western Cape Police Services. The SAPS investigators also visited the National Archives several times and found new evidence not presented during the 1970 inquest.
It is this new evidence and the professional opinion of a new pathologist and other specialists that the family is keen to hear; evidence that will take them closer to the truth they are seeking.