As we, in this season of the regathering of hope and purpose celebrate the 90th birthday of James Matthews, a warrior-poet and griot of our days, we also remember the martyr, Imam Abdullah Haron.
In his poem, Think of Me Sometime, Matthews asks us to be mindful of him, “sometime as you enjoy life and watch flowers bloom to grow and give delight life as light as air while life for me has died”.
And yet he is in our midst, a poignant reminder of the battles fought by ones such as him and that of his friend and fellow compatriot in the Struggle, Imam Haron, whose martyrdom we will recall in the days to come.
The 45-year-old Muslim cleric and justice warrior and prophet, Haron, had been found dead in his cell in Maitland police station on the morning of Saturday, September 27, 1969.
He had succumbed to the effects of 123 days of confinement.
Much of it had been in solitary and, during that time, he was subjected to bouts of vicious physical and mental torture.
Moulood an-Nabi, the day on which Cape Muslims celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad, features in two significant ways in the life of the imam.
It was the day in 1955 on which he was appointed to lead the congregation of Claremont Mosque. And Moulood fell on the day on which he was detained, May 28, 1969.
Sitting in his cell on the night of his detention, the imam would have sought succour in the event that would be taking place in the mosques of Cape Town.
The Prophet’s birthday is accompanied by the custom of rampies sny. Traditionally, women gather in the mosques to cut lemon tree leaves and flowers and infuse it with rose water.
This potpourri is folded into portions of wrapping paper or pieces of material and later handed as gifts to the menfolk in their lives.
The festive occasion is characterised by Arabic chants by those gathered, in praise of Allah, as part of the process of cutting the leaves.
These are gathered in a basket and the oeker - the rite of invocation asking for the blessings of God - is enacted.
The voice of Imam Haron would have joined those of his brothers in the faith in the riwaayat, the praise poetry lauding the life of the Prophet.
Matthews writes about his time in detention where he reflects on the midnight hour.
He remembers that “has a special quality, a stillness of graveyards after hours”.
Perhaps his words distil the thoughts of Imam Haron, making his peace with his Creator as death brought it particular comfort:
“Perhaps, I am dying and now aware only when the midnight hour had passed will my spirit depart to take solitary walks along the stars and rest in the moon’s crescent seeking traces of others who had wandered this way ears strain to capture echoes of conversations of the past refreshed, i continue passage along heaven’s breadth dawn finds me blanket-wrapped entombed on the cement floor of my cell.”
May our compatriots, all those assembled to govern and lead in the sixth Parliament of our republic remain constant in the knowledge that we live as we do, for the healing quality of a future promised in our children.
And we breathe and have our being because of the bloodied dreams and sacrifices of ones such as James the Poet and the Iman Abdullah Haron.
* The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.