Cape Town - Coming one step closer to justice, the legal representative of anti-apartheid martyr Imam Abdullah Haron’s family poked holes in the testimony of retired cop Johannes Burger, who was on duty when Haron's body was found in a cell at the Maitland police station in Cape Town 53 years ago.
During the reopened inquest into Haron’s death in the Western Cape High Court on Monday, Advocate Howard Varney criticised the inquest held in 1970, where the magistrate at the time ruled that no one was to blame for Haron’s death, despite evidence in the post-mortem report of clear trauma to his body.
Burger is the only living police member that could be traced by the family’s legal teams.
Varney criticised Burger's testimony on Haron's death, charging he was lying under oath.
“Burger noticed that during the last 14 days before his death Haron was not walking during his exercise times. When cross-examined about what appeared to be a deliberate effort not to document Haron’s deteriorating health, Burger claimed he reported Haron’s condition to his superiors, but they did not record this in the occurrence book and that he could not be blamed for their failure to do so,” Varney said.
Haron was interrogated almost daily…These were long hours of interrogation sessions, from approximately 8am to late afternoon or night, sometimes to midnight. Towards the end he was suffering considerable head, chest and stomach pain
123 days after his arrest Haron died alone in his cell. It was alleged that Haron had fallen down a staircase during the evening of September 19 1969. It is our submission that this Honourable Court will have little difficulty in reversing the finding that nobody was to blame for his death,” he said.
Haron was an anti-apartheid activist who died while in police custody in September 1969.
He was held in solitary confinement, interrogated almost daily and assaulted an unknown number of times, for 123 days while in detention.
An inquest was held in 1970, and the magistrate at the time ruled that no one was to blame for his death, despite contradictory evidence in the post-mortem report.
Closing arguments started on Monday, following testimonies from Imam Haron’s children, former political detainees, expert witnesses and a former police officer in November last year.
Muhammed Haron testified that as Haron’s son, he attended the Islamic rite of washing his father’s body, which was when he saw the bruises all over his body.
Shamela Shamis, Haron’s daughter, explained how her mother’s world fell apart on the day her father died.
Mrs Haron has also subsequently died, having waited in vain for 50 years for justice.
Other testimonies included that of pathologist Dr Steve Naidoo, who testified that the injuries on Haron’s body were caused by blunt force, likely as a result of being repeatedly assaulted.
According to Dr Naidoo, Haron’s injuries were consistent with him having been “kicked and stomped on” while he lay on the floor, in the last days before his death.
A post-mortem conducted by Dr Theodor Schwär which found that Haron’s bruises were “not of such a serious nature” also came under sharp criticism.
Muhammed Haron told the Cape Times on Monday that they hoped the reopened inquest would bring closure to the family.
“We hope the inquest will bring closure. It has already partially done so with the witnesses that came forward. We hope that the closing arguments will reinforce what has always been in our minds, that he was killed while he was in detention,“ he said.
Haron’s youngest daughter, Fatima Haron-Masoet, said the reopening of the inquest opened old wounds.
“It is a reminder of what we went through when witnesses took the stand in November 2022.
“We are told again about the chest pains, and the stomach pains my father had to endure before his death. He was in pain but no doctor was called in to check what the actual problem was.
We heard in the proceedings that they clearly wanted to hide any physical wounds a doctor could have picked up, that could reveal what caused the pain and the trauma my father endured,” she said.
Closing arguments are expected to conclude on Tuesday.