Truth has arrived: reflections on the Imam Haron inquest

Judge Daniel Mafeleu Thulare will deliver closing arguments and the judgment next year. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Judge Daniel Mafeleu Thulare will deliver closing arguments and the judgment next year. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 22, 2022



Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

Say: Truth Has (Now) Arrived and Falsehood Has Vanished, for Falsehood is Bound to Perish. (Qur’an 17:81)

The above verse of the Muslim sacred scripture, the Qur’an, fittingly describes the testimony heard from Monday, November 7, to Wednesday, November 16, at the Western Cape High Court during the reopened inquest into the death of Imam Abdullah Haron in an apartheid prison cell in September 1969.

The expert testimonies of, in particular, aeronautical engineer Dr Thivash Moodley, and forensic pathologists Dr Itumeleng Molefe and Dr Segeran Naidoo, make it unequivocally clear that the apartheid police version that Imam Haron died as a result of injuries sustained during a “fall from a staircase at the Cape Town police station”, is false.

The police version given in 1969 is unashamedly a pack of lies.

Moreover, the evidence heard from others who were also incarcerated during the apartheid era, such as Jeremy Cronin, Robert Wilcox, Yousuf Gabru, Stephanie Kemp and Shirley Gunn, leaves little doubt that Imam Haron’s death was caused by the torture he was subjected to during the 123 days he was held incommunicado by the apartheid security branch.

The anti-apartheid activists who testified were interrogated by the very same Special Branch officers, including the notorious “Spyker” van Wyk, who interrogated Imam Haron.

They were routinely subjected to physical and/or psychological abuse while in detention. At least two of them testified that “Spyker” van Wyk threatened to do to them what he claimed he did to Imam Haron.

Of course, “Spyker” is now deceased, and never publicly admitted to causing the death of Imam Haron. Yousuf Gabru, in his testimony, described “Spyker” van Wyk as “an uncivilised barbarian who was pure evil”.

We now await with cautious optimism the closing arguments and the judgment that will be delivered by Judge Daniel Mafeleu Thulare early next year. Insha-Allah, God-Willing, a verdict that overturns the 1970 inquest would set the record straight and confirm that which we all know is the truth, that Imam Haron was brutally tortured and killed by the apartheid security police.

The hearings at the Western Cape High Court inquest of the past fortnight, however, not only corrected the historical record concerning the true cause of the death of Imam Haron, but also provided a much-needed opportunity for some cathartic healing for the Haron children by giving them a voice in these hearings.

They were not asked to testify at the first inquest in 1970. Moreover, their testimonies reconfirmed the Imam’s humble and generous character, and his progressive Islamic world view.

Shamela Shamis, the eldest daughter of Imam Haron, who travelled from London to provide testimony, told the court that her family had waited 53 years for this day.

Shamela attested to the fact that the inquest into her father’s death was reopening painful wounds for her family. She testified that: “My father’s faith was his life, and his way of faith was present in every cell of his body.

I firmly believe that it was this faith that was his companion during his torturous 123 days in detention.”

What was most inspirational about Shamela, Muhammad and Fatima’s testimonies was the pivotal role their mother, Haji Galiema (née Sadan), played not only during the life of her beloved husband, Abdullah Haron, but also in holding her family together and rearing her children as a single mother, in the aftermath of the tragic killing of her soulmate.

In his moving testimony, Muhammad describes his mother’s role as follows:

“Notwithstanding my mother’s dejected circumstances, she did not give up; she tangibly demonstrated her feistiness and her ability to take charge. She carried – playing her dual role since then – her motherly and fatherly duties without ever publicly moaning or groaning; she did her chores with dedication and with the purpose of seeing to the needs of my sister and I: she made sure that we – her children – received all the necessary love and care.”

The final testimony delivered by Fatima Masoet, the youngest child of Imam Abdullah Haron, was indeed a fitting conclusion to the eight days of testimony delivered during the Haron Inquest at the Western Cape High Court. Fatima’s testimony was almost entirely a tender tribute to her mother, Galiema Haron.

Fatima, only 6 years old when her father was killed in 1969, described the confusion of finding herself sharing a bedroom with her mother at her grandmother’s house after her father’s death, and her mother’s resolve to build a new house for them from the ground up in order to ensure that they could have a secure, independent life.

Fatima ended her deposition by proclaiming: “I stand here for Mama Biko, Mama Calata, for Dulcie September and all those women who suffered under apartheid.”

The upshot of the eight-day testimony during the Haron inquest is that while we set the record straight and paid tribute and homage to the supreme sacrifice of Imam Abdullah Haron, we should never forget the sterling role his wife Galiema Haron played in supporting him during his lifetime, and in keeping their family together after his death.

She died in 2019, 50 years to the day after the Imam’s death, and never saw the truth of his death being revealed.

In conclusion, while we celebrate the truth-telling which took place at the court, we also remember the great sacrifices of Galiema Haron, and all other apartheid victims’ families.

We pray for a positive outcome from this reopened inquest; that Judge Thulare will indeed concur that Imam Abdullah Haron was tortured and killed by the apartheid police, and that history will record it as such.

Dr Omar is an imam at the Claremont Main Road Mosque.

Cape Times