CASSIEM KHAN reflects on the harrowing testimony on the third day of the inquest into the killing of Imam Abdullah Haron.
On day three of the inquest into the death in detention of Imam Abdullah Haron, it would be appropriate to be reminded that inquests are judicial inquiries to ascertain the facts relating to an unnatural death.
Magistrate JSP Kuhn presided over the 1970 inquest into the death in detention of Imam Haron. Kuhn found that:
“The cause or likely cause of death to be Myocardial Ischemia: a likely contributing cause being a disturbance of the blood-clotting mechanism and blood circulation due to, in part, trauma superimposed on a severe narrowing of a coronary artery.
“Whether the death was brought about by an act of omission involving or amounting to an offence on the part of any person: a substantial part of the said trauma was caused by an accidental fall down a flight of stone stairs. On the available evidence, I am unable to determine how the balance thereof was caused.”
Dr Itumeleng Molefe, a forensic pathologist attached to the University of Cape Town (UCT), took the stand on day three of the 2022 inquest that is being presided over by Judge Daniel Thulare. Her testimony was led by Advocate Deidre Julius of the National Prosecution Authority
Before we delve into their professional opinions on Magistrate Khun’s 1970 judgement, let us pause and note that the ideal of non-racialism that Imam Abdullah Haron was striving for has come to fruition. We can confidently claim that Imam Haron is satisfied and smiling at a courtroom presided over by a ‘black African’ male judge, a ‘black African’ woman pathologist, and a young ‘coloured’ woman prosecutor.
The foot soldiers of the apartheid state, the likes of Major DK Genis and Sergeant JP ‘Spyker’ van Wyk were deployed to arrest, silence intermediate, interrogate, torture and kill people like Imam Haron, who strove to establish a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. The security policemen believed that the state’s security would be undermined and compromised by educated black men and women.
I left the courtroom yesterday afternoon in the company of Dr Suroor Solomon.
Suroor completed high school but was refused entry to UCT based on a letter from the government. They created a university for ‘coloured’ students, the University of the Western Cape (UWC). They pressured students to register at this deliberately under-resourced institution with limited study options by denying them access to white institutions such as UCT. UWC still does not offer medicine, which Suroor wanted to study at UCT.
Imam Haron arranged for Suroor to study medicine in Cairo, Egypt. It was these actions that endeared Imam to his people, whether in Claremont or Langa. And it was these actions that the apartheid state feared and deemed him worthy of being arrested and charged under the Terrorism Act.
The aeronautic engineer cum trajectory specialist, Thivash Moodley, on Tuesday debunked the idea that the injuries and bruises on the body of Imam Haron could have been a result of a fall down a flight of stairs.
At yesterday’s sitting, Dr Molefe meticulously covered every aspect of the 1969 autopsy and the 1970 inquest that included the testimony of senior State Pathologist, Dr T G Schwar.
She started her testimony by confirming from existing records that Imam Haron was in excellent health at the time of his arrest, which was also confirmed by the security police.
She elaborated on the reports that health professionals ignored Imam’s complaints of chest pain and pointed out that providing him with strong scheduled medication for haemorrhoids was unethical medical practice.
But it was the detail of exploring every bruise and placing it in the context of colour that would indicate when and for how long the bruises existed. This confirmed that the most severe injuries were sustained in the days before Imam was found dead in his police cell.
The worst bruises, based on their location on the body, could have been inflicted by a blunt instrument such as a baton or even a kick with a shoe whilst Imam was lying on the floor in a weakened state by medication that could have sedated him and left him drowsy or asleep.
Dr Molefe referred throughout her testimony to a diagram of Imam Haron’s injuries and, at length, and in considerable detail, explained terms such as myocardial ischemia, pulmonary embolism, sub pleural bleeding; how clots and bruises are formed, how the blood flows into the heart, and the relationship between the kidneys, heart and lungs.
In the witness stand, she held up a forensic textbook co-authored by Dr Schwar, in which he discusses deaths in detention. This was done to try and understand the thought processes of those involved in the 1970 inquest.
Dr Molefe lectures forensic pathology at one of the world’s leading medical schools and has performed well over 2500 autopsies.
In our pursuit of the truth, we could be impressed by the information on the impact of the narrowing of an artery on the heart, where a blood clot was found or how a bruise develops, and then completely lose sight of the context of the patient or the body on whom an autopsy was done.
Imam was a political prisoner with the right to a confidential and dignified examination. Dr Molefe continuously reminded the court of this context.
Several health professionals violated this right, and the Health Professionals Council must be challenged to identify these individuals and posthumously strike off the records of their profession.
The insult to the injury continued when the court heard that two covered corpses were dumped on top of Imam Haron’s naked body. Why his clothes were removed was not explained during the 1970 inquest. It is clear his clothes could have provided clues to the injuries sustained. Again, the crime scene was tampered with.
A student, protégé and friend of Imam Haron, Imam Ebrahim Davids, would often recite the Quranic verse: ‘And cover not Truth with Falsehood nor conceal the Truth when you know what it is ” (Quran 2:42).
He also loved and taught the verse: ‘And say: “Truth has (now) arrived, and Falsehood has perished: for Falsehood is (by its nature) bound to perish”.’ (Quran 17:81)
The testimonies of Dr Molefe and Thivash Moodley allowed the truth to arrive, and hearing them would have warmed the hearts of all the close associates of Imam Haron who have now passed on. But knowing the details of how this caring, loving and gentle Imam, who loved them, was beaten to death and had his body humiliated and violated would have been too much to bear, as it certainly was for his family in court.