Maverick Citizen

DEATH IN DETENTION

Family expects truth as NPA finally reopens inquest into apartheid death of Imam Haron

Family expects truth as NPA finally reopens inquest into apartheid death of Imam Haron
Anti-apartheid activist Imam Abdullah Haron. (Photo: Supplied)

Now, 53 years after Imam Abdullah Haron’s death in detention, his family hopes to hear what really happened. ‘From this moment on, we need to be prepared. We don’t know what lies ahead when it goes to the high court,’ Fatiema Haron Masoet, the daughter of the anti-apartheid activist, said in an interview.

Days after the news that an inquest will be reopened to investigate her father’s death, Fatiema Haron Masoet spoke to Daily Maverick about her father’s life, legacy and the need for closure even though the people responsible for his death are no longer alive. 

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services announced in a statement on 31 May that Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola had asked the Western Cape judge president to designate a judge to reopen the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist, Imam Abdullah Haron, who died in detention.

Imam Haron was born in Claremont, Cape Town, in February 1924. He was the imam of the Masjid Al-Jaamia in Claremont. He was also an editor and the sales rep for Wilson Rowntree, a British sweets company. He was against the Group Areas Act, used his position to speak against the limited movement of people, the Sharpeville and Langa massacres and the detention of activists as well as to seek assistance from the international community. 

Haron Masoet told Daily Maverick that her father used a pass obtained via his role as a sales rep to go into townships to speak to communities and to assist where he could. He was not a member of a political party and although he knew the leaders of the ANC and the Pan African Congress, he was a “lone ranger”, she said. 

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Tortured in detention

Because of his political activities in South Africa and abroad, Haron was summoned to Caledon Square police station on 28 May 1969. He was detained by one of the Security Branch’s officers, Spyker van Wyk, under the so-called Terrorism Act. While in detention, he was tortured and his family could not visit him. By 27 September 1969, 123 days later, he was dead. The police claimed he’d fallen down a staircase, which had resulted in his death.

Fatiema, one of Haron’s three children, was six years old at the time. She said her family visited the police station several times and they did not believe her father’s death was a result of a fall. She told Daily Maverick that in February 1970, the magistrate who had been appointed to look into Haron’s death found 26 bruises on his body. “The magistrate ruled no one could be held responsible for his death,” said Haron Masoet, which was a major blow to the family. 

Read in Daily Maverick: A man of principle: The life and death of Imam Haron

Now, 53 years later, the family will hear what really happened to their father. 

In its statement, the Justice Ministry said: “The Minister’s decision in terms of Section 17 A of the Inquest Act No. 58 of 1959 follows an application by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the reopening of the inquests, to help it determine whether the original court finding that Haron died as a result of falling down the stairs.” 

“We must do all we can to ensure that justice prevails no matter how long it takes,” said Lamola. 

Pursuit of truth

The new investigation will consider expert reports from a state pathologist, an aeronautical engineer and a trajectory expert that will, according to the department, “provide a new perspective into the probable cause of the death of Imam Haron”. 

News24 reported on Friday, 3 June, that Western Cape High Court Judge Daniel Thulare has been appointed to oversee the reopened case. 

“As a family, I feel the truth must be told… The facts must be put on the table,” Haron Masoet told Daily Maverick on Friday evening. “We want answers because we want closure,” she said, adding that none of her father’s torturers was still alive. 

Despite the family’s request for an inquest to be reopened in 2019 (marking 50 years since Haron’s death in detention), they did not hear back from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). 

Haron Masoet said they had heard the recent news about the reopening of the inquest via social media. She said she was taken aback: “I felt there was no respect in the way they [handled] this information, to just spring it up in the public — no formal letter, no phone call.”

She said her family — comprising two siblings and Haron’s grandchildren — needed “to move forward; we need to be positive… From this moment on, we need to be prepared. We don’t know what lies ahead when it goes to the high court.” 

‘It is our mothers who raised us’

Haron’s wife, Galiema, is not around to see justice for her beloved husband. She died on 27 September 2019, aged 92, and was buried in the same grave as her husband. She died “on the day that my daddy was buried” 50 years previously, said Haron Masoet. Before her death, Galiema had given permission for the request to reopen the inquest into her husband’s death. 

Haron Masoet said her mother was like many other wives of anti-apartheid fighters who were detained, killed or “disappeared”. These wives and mothers had to take care of their children and carry the emotional pain of losing their loved ones, but “they managed to walk tall” in their communities. 

“All these women deserve a standing ovation. If I look at Nkosinathi [Steve Biko’s son], if I look at Lukhanyo [Fort Calata’s son], it is our mothers who raised us,” she said. 

“I can’t imagine what my mother had to endure at the time,” said Haron Masoet. People were afraid to associate with her mother and she was cut off from her community. 

Haron did not only fight against apartheid. He taught women and young people throughout his tenure at Masjid Al-Jaamia. 

Hope

As the country enters Youth Month, Haron Masoet has a message for young people: “Never give up — while there is life, there is hope. If you want to draw a lesson from my father’s life, if you want to learn from him … look at the life lessons he gave — what he was in his character, what he was as a leader in his community, as a family man, as a brother to his siblings, and as a friend even to his foe.”

She said if ever young people feel hopeless, they need to look to the past, to the people who paved the way for this country. 

Haron Masoet said that even when her father was warned that the police were after him, “he wasn’t afraid or scared. He had the courage and conviction to bring about peace and justice. These are the kinds of things that we need to take out of his life and implement in our own lives. We need to believe in justice for all. He believed in justice, he believed in free education for all, he believed in freedom of movement, speech, expression — everything that goes with human dignity.” DM

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