HAMBA KAHLE: About 40 000 mourners attended the 1969 funeral of Imam Abdullah Haron. It was one of the largest in South Africas history. Thousands marched from his Athlone home to the Mowbray Cemetery to lay Haron to rest.
HAMBA KAHLE: About 40 000 mourners attended the 1969 funeral of Imam Abdullah Haron. It was one of the largest in South Africas history. Thousands marched from his Athlone home to the Mowbray Cemetery to lay Haron to rest.
HOT OFF THE PRESS: Imam Abdullah Haron, left, as founding editor of Muslim News, checks the newspaper at the printing press with owner Zubair Sayed in 1967.
HOT OFF THE PRESS: Imam Abdullah Haron, left, as founding editor of Muslim News, checks the newspaper at the printing press with owner Zubair Sayed in 1967.

ON THE morning of May 28, 1969, Imam Abdullah Haron’s two youngest children had already left for school when a call came at his door from people requesting his assistance.

It was no strange occurrence for people from the community to come to him for advice, help or even financial assistance so, as always, he extended his hand to help.

His son Muhammed Haron, then 13, described his father as a friendly and open individual, a people’s person welcomed by young and old, whose generosity “knew no bounds”. When people would knock on his door, he said, he would never say no.

“Perhaps it was also a shortcoming,” he suggested, because it was that generosity that allowed the security branch to lure him out of his home on that day when he was detained under the Terrorism Act.

Haron knew the police were “hot on his heels” and had been advised not to return to South Africa when he last visited England in 1968 – taking his eldest daughter Shamila to live in a country where she was free to study what she wanted.

“He knew he was being monitored by the security branch, but yet he would give in to people in desperate need,” said Muhammed. “And this was part of that story that led him to be apprehended.”

Even while he was detained, his concern was not for himself. Part of the reason he refused to stay in safety in London was because his father was old and frail and he felt he had “unfinished matters”.

Fatiema Haron-Masoet turned seven years old just a few days after her father died in detention on September 27, 1969 – 45 years ago tomorrow.

“He felt he still had responsibilities waiting for him,” she said, saying that sadly he could never do what he came back for because he was incarcerated, tortured and died – “all in the same breath”.

Muhammed’s last memory of his father was hearing his father’s voice from a distant window. His family were not permitted to see him during his four months in detention so they shouted for him outside and received the faint response that he was fine, not to worry and to look after Muhammed’s grandfather – the imam’s father.

“That was another quality of his. He didn’t want us to reflect on him and his condition, but rather consider others who need attention,” Muhammed said.

“That was the last time I heard his voice.”

Muhammed said his relationship with his father was a close one. “Wherever he used to go, I used to go along with him,” he said.

But his caring for children extended far beyond his own family. “He was very much a father to everyone,” explained Muhammed.

Muhammed said he continues to live his father’s legacy by gaining the trust of others and demonstrating a life as a respectable family man.

“There are a number of good aspects of his that one tries to draw on,” he said, adding that he also tries to learn from his father’s weaknesses, with the knowledge that he was “overly generous”.

“One has to draw the line somewhere. But that was him. That was the imam.”

Fatiema said she was very young and does not remember much about her father, but for visions of him stroking her head or lifting her on to his lap. But she remembers the day he was buried and the thousands of people who came to their home.

“Little me surrounded by masses and not knowing what was transpiring at the time,” she said.

But she later learned of his “footsteps into deep matters dealing with politics” and how he was a “breadwinner to many”.

“And the difference is that he was a breadwinner across religious barriers,” she said, explaining that he ensured that families of prisoners had food on the table.

“The role he played was for humanitarian reasons to make sure there was bread for all and not just one.”

Sadly, Muhammed explained, that same generosity was not extended to Haron’s widow and children after his death. Many of the people were afraid to help them, or no longer had a connection to the family after Haron was gone, and for two years they were scattered before they could afford a house to live together again.

Fatiema said she hopes people will still continue to draw lessons from her father’s life. “That will make a big difference – just one lesson to keep that memory going,” she said.

“We can never fulfil the footsteps of our fathers, but at least draw a lesson out of what they left behind.”

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