Imam Abdullah Haron was killed while in apartheid police custody on September 27, 1969.
Imam Abdullah Haron was killed while in apartheid police custody on September 27, 1969.

By not prosecuting apartheid-era criminals, the NPA sent a clear message to the corrupt

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 27, 2020

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By Cassiem Khan, director of the Imam Haron Foundation.

Cape Town - Imam Abdullah Haron was killed while in apartheid police custody on September 27, 1969.

The imam was held incommunicado for 123 days, during which he was interrogated and tortured for his resistance to the apartheid state.

A post-mortem into his death found 26 separate bruises, a haematoma over the lumbosacral area and the seventh rib broken.

The annual Imam Abdullah Haron Lecture will this year focus its attention on issues of corruption, transitional and social justice.

2020 has already been a tumultuous year.

Sadly, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is felt in all aspects of South African society, especially because of the rampant corruption that accompanied the state's delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The pandemic has increased the already high rate of unemployment and increased the inequality in a very divided society.

Public confidence in the state is severely impacted by corruption, feelings of insecurity and resentment for high food, electricity and water prices.

To placate the masses, the response from the president has been, “dance the Jerusalema”.

The apartheid state acted in the interests of a few at the expense of the majority.

Key figures in the current ruling elite have been identified in corruption at the Zondo Commission into State Capture as benefiting a few and acting against the growth and development of the country.

The task of delivering justice for the people falls on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Hawks, in particular. Unless we see high-profile prosecutions, arrests and imprisonment that fits the crime, the people will continue to lose confidence in the state.

But as families of victims of apartheid-era atrocities will attest, the NPA is incapable and unwilling when it comes to prosecution.

Our proof for such a bold claim is that for more than 20 years the NPA has not prosecuted even one perpetrator involved in the deaths in detention that took place under apartheid.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) did not have a blanket amnesty process for perpetrators.

It required perpetrators of political crimes to reveal all and apply for amnesty.

Many security policemen did not appear at the TRC.

The TRC referred 400 cases to the NPA for further investigation and prosecution, especially in cases of murder.

The impunity that exists on matters of corruption in South Africa today emanate from this lack of political will to investigate and prosecute apartheid-era crimes with the urgency that they required.

By not prosecuting apartheid-era criminals, the NPA sent a clear message to criminals and the corrupt that they can commit whatever crime they wish and there will be no consequences.

Sadly, the rampant corruption and overwhelming crime in post-conflict societies is not uncommon.

If transitional justice is the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society's attempts to come to terms with the legacy of large-scale abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation, then what we have experienced in the past 26 years falls far short of what was due to us as a population.

We were fed reconciliation without justice.

There has not been full accountability for the large-scale abuses under apartheid that were clearly identified as a crime against humanity.

This is evidenced by families seeking justice for apartheid-era killings of their loved ones.

This is also true for apartheid-era economic crimes and for the war crimes of the South African Defence Force and its Military Intelligence in neighbouring countries.

Apartheid-era security policemen, especially those responsible for torture and deaths and their political principals, were given political assurances that they would not be purged for apartheid crimes, from their jobs (so that they would not lose their pensions) and would not be prosecuted.

We are yet to be provided evidence that these assurances were legal - and herein lies the opportunity for those seeking justice.

The NPA, its investigative directorate and the Hawks must take the population into their confidence and act independently and with courage on matters of both apartheid-era killings and corruption.

The NPA must share what its lack of capacity is, identify and expose those who were part of political interference in the execution of its mandate, and if need be find its own sources of funding to ensure its independence.

If we are to have a society that is free from corruption, one that is socially just in which its citizens can live in peace and prosper, in which we remove the barriers that people face because of gender, race, age and religion, then we should continue to make our voices heard and sacrifice for what we believe as shown to us by leaders such as Imam Haron, Babla Saloojee and Steve Biko, all three of whom we commemorate in this month.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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