TO: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For immediate release
Monday, 31 October 2022
Reopened Inquest into the death in detention of Imam Abdullah Haron to take place from 7 to 18 November 2022
Press Release by the Foundation for Human Rights and Webber Wentzel Attorneys
The re-opened inquest into the death of Imam Abdullah Haron will take place at the Cape Town High Court from 7 November 2022 to 18 November 2022. The hearing will proceed in open court before Judge Thulare. The Inquest Court will hear evidence from witnesses including former detainees, pathologists and a trajectory and aeronautical engineer.
Abdullah Haron, also known as Imam Haron, was known to be a progressive Islamic scholar and Imam at the Stegman Road Mosque in Cape Town. He became increasingly critical of the apartheid government’s policies, which he opposed, and in the 1960s, began to be involved in clandestine anti-apartheid activities. In order to protect his family and congregation, he deliberately kept his political actions secret, and so the nature and extent of his political activism was unknown. He is known to have developed close ties with the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), a banned organisation at the time.
On 28 May 1969 Haron was arrested by the Security Branch of the South African Police and held in solitary confinement at Caledon Square and Maitland Police Stations under section 6 of the Terrorism Act 83 of 1967. The Haron family was told that he died on 27 September 1969. At the time of his death, Haron was 45. He was the first cleric of any faith to die in police detention in the apartheid state.
Due to the unnatural cause of death, an inquest was held in 1970, presided over by Magistrate JSP Kuhn. The Security Police testified that Haron had slipped on stairs in the Caledon Square Police Station on 19 September 1969. A pathologist, Dr Percy Helman, testified that a fall could not account for all the bruises and a broken rib reported in the official post-mortem report. Dr Helman also testified that Haron would have been in severe pain due to his injuries and would have been unable to move during his last days. According to the inquest finding, the cause or likely cause of death was “[m]yocardial ischaemia: a likely contributing cause being a disturbance of the blood clotting mechanism and blood circulating due, in part, to trauma superimposed on a severe narrowing of a coronary artery.” A “substantial part” of the trauma was caused by an “accidental” fall down a flight of stairs. The inquest magistrate further held that he was unable to determine how the balance of the trauma to Haron’s body was caused. As a result, no one was held accountable for Haron’s death.
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Haron’s death. On 9 September 2019, both the Stegman Road Mosque and Haron’s gravesite were declared provincial heritage sites, in honour of his memory and contributions. Encouraged by the progress made in other apartheid-era cases such as the Nokuthula Simelane and Ahmed Timol cases, in 2017 Fatima Haron-Masoet and Muhammad Haron approached the Foundation for Human Rights and Webber Wentzel seeking assistance with the possible re-opening of the inquest into the death in detention of their father, Imam Haron. The FHR covered the costs of an independent investigation into his death and also covered the costs of independent experts and junior counsel, while Webber Wentzel has taken on the matter on a pro bono basis. Advocate Howard Varney is lead counsel on the case and is supported by Advocate Naefa Kahn.
In 2019, based on new evidence and other grounds, the Haron Family made representations to the National Director of Public Prosecutions requesting the re-opening of the inquest. Haron’s son, Muhammad, stated that the family considered doing so many years ago, but had little faith that the State would take action. In the meantime the two persons of material interest to the case, former Security Branch officers, “Spyker” van Wyk and Dirk Genis, have died.
On 31 May 2022, almost two and a half years after the family had filed representations with the NDPP, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, formally requested the Judge President of the Western Cape Division of the High Court to designate a judge to reopen the inquest into the death in detention of Iman Haron. The Minister’s Decision is in terms of Section 17 A of the Inquest Act no 58 of 1959, and it follows a recommendation by the National Prosecuting Authority for the re-opening of the inquest.
Although both van Wyk and Genis have died, the re-opened inquest represents the family’s search for the truth about Imam Haron’s death at the hands of the security branch.
For media enquiries contact:
Lindiwe Sithole, Media and Communication Officer, FHR at email@example.com and 082 634 7154
For more information contact:
Ms Odette Geldenhuys, a legal representative for the Haron Family, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr Khalid Shamis, a spokesperson for the Haron Family, email@example.com or 0722652687.
For more information on the Unfinished Business of the TRC Programme, contact Katarzyna Zdunczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org; Ahmed Mayet at email@example.com or Linda Mushoriwa at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For more information on the “Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission” Programme that is run by the Foundation for Human Rights consult our website: https://unfinishedtrc.co.za .
Foundation for Human Rights
The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) is a non-profit human rights organization that works to protect and promote human rights in South Africa. The FHR was established in 1996 to address the historical legacy of apartheid, and to promote and advance transformation and human rights based on the new constitution. The FHR implements four main human rights programs: the Constitutional Awareness and Education Programme, the Gender Based Violence Programme, the Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Programme, and the Community-Advice Offices Programme. Over the last two decades, the FHR has played a major role in promoting the rights of victims of apartheid crimes through supporting the recommendations of the TRC, including justice and accountability for past crimes, reparations, and access to the TRC archives.
Webber Wentzel Pro-Bono Unit
Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Unit headed by Ms Odette Geldenhuys, provides free legal services to marginalised and vulnerable individuals and groups. Attorneys from the Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Unit, including Moray Hathorn, have acted as legal representatives in a number of post-TRC matters and have played an instrumental role in moving the cases forward. The post-TRC cases that have been supported by Webber Wentzel include the matters of Ahmed Timol, Dr Neil Aggett, Imam Haron, COSAS 4, Nokuthula Simelane and Caiphus Nyoka.