South Africa

Judgment expected in inquest into death of anti-apartheid activist Imam Haron

Imam Haron

The family of the late anti-apartheid activist of Imam Abdullah Haron who was killed in police custody in 1969, will hear the outcome of the reopened inquest into his death.

Judge Daniel Thulare is expected to hand down judgment in the reopened inquest of Haron at the Western Cape High Court on 9 October.

Hope

The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) spokesperson Lindiwe Sithole said they are waiting for the upcoming inquest judgment with “a profound sense of hope and anticipation.”

“We hope this judgment will bring more than a legal decision, it is a promise of closure for the grieving Haron family who have long sought answers and justice.

“As we look forward to the verdict, we remain committed to the pursuit of truth, justice, and the honouring of the Imam’s legacy. May the judgment bring solace to the family and inspire positive change in our society,” Sithole said.

Activist

Haron, a political activist and Imam at Cape Town’s Stegman Road Mosque, was arrested on 28 May 1969 under the Terrorism Act, held in solitary confinement for 123 days, and subjected to near-daily interrogations.

The Imam succumbed to his death in police custody at Maitland Police Station on 27 September 1969.

In May last year, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola formally requested the Judge President of the Western Cape Division of the High Court to designate a judge to preside over the inquiry. 

ALSO READ: Inquest into death of anti-apartheid activist Imam Abdullah Haron reopened

Initial inquest

During the initial inquest, the Security Police testified that Haron had slipped on stairs at the Caledon Square Police Station on 19 September 1969.

According to the inquest finding, the cause or likely cause of death was “[m]yocardial ischaemia: a likely contributing cause being a disturbance of the blood clotting mechanism and blood circulating due, in part, to trauma superimposed on a severe narrowing of a coronary artery.”

A “substantial part” of the trauma was caused by an “accidental” fall down a flight of stairs. Yet the inquest magistrate held that he could not determine how the balance.

Reopened inquest

By the time of the reopened inquest requested by the Haron family,  the two persons of material interest to Haron’s detention, Security Branch officers “Spyker” van Wyk and Dirk Genis, had died.

Imam Haron’s children, Fatiema Haron-Masoet, Muhammed Haron, and Shamela Shamis, gave testimony at the reopened inquest. So did former political detainees, expert witnesses, and a former police officer.

Thivash Moodley, an aeronautical engineer, contradicted the 1970 police account, asserting that Haron’s injuries did not align with a fall down a flight of stairs.

Pathologist Dr Steve Naidoo attested that the injuries resulted from blunt force, likely due to repeated assaults.

According to Dr Naidoo, Haron’s injuries suggested he had been kicked and violently trampled while on the floor in the days leading up to his death. Similarly, pathologist Dr Molefe concluded that Imam Haron’s bruises were significant; and contributed to the cause of death.

Dr Molefe ultimately concluded that the injuries sustained by Haron were the underlying primary cause of death.

The family was represented pro bono by Webber Wentzel, and advocates Howard Varney and Naefa Kahn appeared for the family

Surviving police

Johannes Burger, the only surviving member of the then South African Police (SAP) who had contact with Haron during detention, claimed ignorance about the treatment of political detainees. However, having seen post-mortem drawings, Burger believed Haron died due to torture.

Throughout his detention, Haron was held in solitary confinement. He was kept in his cell, and only ‘authorised’ people had access to him.

After the reopened inquest, the Haron family informed the Judge that they did not wish to see Burger prosecuted. Burger was one of the youngest and lowest-ranking officers at the time of the Imam’s death.

The family expressed their sentiment that “there is a certain unfairness in holding a person of such stature as the only person criminally liable in such circumstances.

Detention

At the time, Mrs Catherine Taylor, a member of the then United Party, raised Haron’s ongoing detention before parliament, but the then Minister of Police, Mr Muller, had responded that it was “not in the public interest” to know why Haron was detained.

Imam Haron was critical of apartheid and closely tied to the then banned Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

His death in detention caused an outpouring of grief: over 40,000 people came to pay their final respects to him on 29 September 1969.

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