Reopened inquest rules apartheid security police responsible for Imam Haron's death

Muhammed Haron and his wife Mumtaz outside the Western Cape High Court with Commander Deon Petersen who was the investigating officer in the reopened case into the death of anti-apartheid activist Imam Abdullah Haron. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency

Muhammed Haron and his wife Mumtaz outside the Western Cape High Court with Commander Deon Petersen who was the investigating officer in the reopened case into the death of anti-apartheid activist Imam Abdullah Haron. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency

Published Oct 10, 2023


Cape Town - A decades-held credence that the Security Branch of the South African Police was responsible for the death by torture of the late Muslim cleric and anti-apartheid activist Imam Abdullah Haron was affirmed as the judgment in the re-opened inquest was delivered.

This was a solemn victory for the Haron family, victims of apartheid police brutality, and those who fought for a liberated South Africa.

Fifty-four years after the death of their father, the Imam’s three children, Shamela Shamis, Muhammed Haron, and Fatiema Haron Masoet, broke down as presiding judge Daniel Thulare read out the judgment in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

Muhammed Haron, son of Imam Haron wiped off tears while listening to judge Thulare delivering his verdict. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency
Muhammed Haron, son of Imam Haron, with his uncle and aunts at the Western Cape High Court. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency

Although not standard practice, due to the magnanimity of the case, Thulare named the judgement: “The last days in the life of the Imam and anti-apartheid guerilla: 28 May to 27 September 1969”.

Thulare said neither the police nor district surgeons tried to find the true cause of the complaints of pain the Imam had, and that he was denied proper medical attention.

“The Imam experienced a steady decline in his health, while in detention, which correlated with the increasing intensity of his interrogations, until he was immobile, and subsequently died. It started with a pain in his left chest in June, and towards the end of his lifetime in September he suffered considerable head, chest, and stomach pain.”

The court heard that the Imam was advised by confidantes to leave the country, but refused. He was also aware that police had informers within his congregation. By 1965, he was identified by the Security Branch as a “security risk”.

Imam Haron was detained by the Security Branch of the Police in terms of the then Terrorism Act and died on September 27, 1969 at the Maitland Police Station. The security police claimed that the Imam had slipped on stairs.

Due to the unnatural cause of death, an inquest was held in 1970, but held no person or parties accountable.

The Imam spent 123 days in detention, 75 days at the Caledon Police Station and 45 days at Maitland Police Station, with the exception of two nights from September 17 to 19 where his whereabouts were unknown.

“The cause of the death of Imam Abdullah Haron is attributable to the cumulative effect of injuries under torture, in particular a combination of severe systemic physiological stresses, including crush injury syndrome precipitated by complications of blunt soft tissue injury, with the possibility of pre-existing coronary artery disease as a contributing factor,” Thulare said.

Presiding judge Daniel Thulare delivering his verdict today that the Apartheid security branch police was responsible for the death of Anti-Apartheid cleric Imam Abdullah Haron while in police custody in 1969. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency

The psychological torture of the Imam included false accusations, solitary confinement, verbal abuse, threatened violence, misleading information, threats of execution of self or family, constant interrogation, threats of and actual prolonged detention. Physical torture included beatings.

Six members of the Security Branch, individually or collectively, continued to kick and hit the Imam even in the week he lay “helplessly sedated and in pain” in the last few days of his life.

The officers were Lieutenant Colonel Carel Johannes Freysen Pienaar, officer in charge of the Security Branch, who died on July 5, 1990; Major Dirk Kotze Genis in charge of the investigation, who died on February 1, 2003; Major Kotze, a member of the Security Branch who interrogated the Imam and whose date of death is unknown; Captain Ebanis Jogiemus Johannes Geldenhuys, who died on December 24, 2012; Sergeant Johannes Petrus “Spyker” van Wyk, lead interrogator who died on November 12, 1990; and Sergeant Andries van Wyk, who participated in the interrogation and whose death is unknown.

“Against the background of the obvious interference by the police, with the body of the Imam, in that they removed his clothes, and their interference with the scene, in that they scrubbed and cleaned the cell in which the Imam was detained, the death interval of the Imam as provided by the police remains suspect.”

Judge Thulare ordered that the findings of Magistrate Kuhn recorded in the 1970 inquest be set aside. Thulare said Kuhn had no real desire to establish and reach the truth.

“The site of the injuries, their circumferential nature, made it difficult to have been sustained in a fall down the stairs. There was no basis for the magistrate to ignore this evidence in favour of the Security Branch version.”

The conduct of medical practitioners Dr Viviers, Dr Gosling, Dr Kosseaw, and Dr Schwar were deserving of rebuke and referred to the South African Medical and Dental Council for attention.

The Imam’s son, Professor Muhammed Haron, said it was partial closure.

“We need now to support the other cases. We have been given the opportunity to have been the third case, more or less, alongside Dr Hoosen Haffejee Timol case, and so in a sense it gives us confidence to give that emotional support that is absent from the others. Sometimes one cannot describe what one feels, it's just something that you have to deal with.”

The family is working on a biography of the Imam’s selfless and awe-inspiring life.

The Imam’s youngest daughter, Fatima Haron-Masoet said: “We have to say that we stand tall on the shoulders of our martyrs and we give hope to the hopeless that's still waiting for all the cases. And as the judge has now clearly described in terms of how brutally he was killed and how he was tortured for the 123 days, for us as a family, we always knew that he was tortured to death, but now it is affirmed, it's on record. The record will change now from the 1970s inquest and that's very important.”

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