To: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For Immediate Release
12 October 2023
Court rules that anti-apartheid activist Imam Haron was tortured to death by the Security Branch
Press Statement issued by the Foundation for Human Rights and the Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Unit
After a protracted quest for justice which lasted over half a century, the family of Imam Abdullah Haron, Cape Town cleric and anti-apartheid activist, was finally able to have the truth confirmed. On Monday, 9 October 2023, Judge Daniel Thulare handed down his judgment in the re-opened inquest in the Western Cape High Court. Judge Thulare set aside the findings of the first inquest and found that Haron had been brutally tortured to death by the members of the Security Branch of the South African Police.
The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) and the Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Unit welcome the judgment, which was delivered in a courtroom filled to capacity with the Haron family, members of the community, activists and comrades. The audience responded with enthusiastic shouts of Amandla! and hearty applause, showing their support for the verdict.
On 28 May 1969 Imam Haron was taken into police custody as a consequence of his activism and open criticism of the apartheid regime. He was detained without trial for 123 days under the Terrorism Act, and subsequently died on 27 September 1969. The inquest magistrate at the time concluded that 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. Yet the inquest magistrate 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. This was despite the post-mortem report detailing evident trauma, including a broken rib and 27 visible bruises.
In stark contrast, Monday’s judgment detailed the many injuries Imam Haron sustained at the hands of the Security Branch resulting in ‘crush syndrome’, which is the systemic manifestations resulting from crush injury, which can, and in his case probably did, result in multisystem organ dysfunction. Judge Thulare concluded that the Imam was tortured brutally and extensively by Security Branch operatives and that the injuries found on his body did not correlate with a fall.
Judge Thulare was scathing of the initial inquest, criticising Magistrate JSP Kuhn for having had no real interest in unearthing the truth and having conducted the initial inquest as a mere formality. Judge Thulare found that the explanations accepted from the implicated police officers at the time, were wholly inadequate to explain how events unfolded leading up to the Imam’s death.
Judge Thulare held the Security Branch of the South African Police responsible for the acts and omissions leading directly to the death of Imam Abdullah Haron. He also ordered that certain individuals who were involved in the death and cover-up of the death of Imam Haron be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Judge Thulare also ordered that the medical practitioners responsible for Haron’s medical care while in detention and the state pathologist responsible for the post mortem, be referred posthumously for ‘the attention’ of the Health Professions Council.
The FHR recognises the steadfast commitment of the Haron family in pursuing justice. The FHR also extends its gratitude to the family’s legal representatives without whom the positive outcome of the re-opened inquest would not have been possible: Advocates Howard Varney and Naefa Kahn, private investigator Retired Brigadier Clifford Marion, and pro bono instructing attorneys, Odette Geldenhuys, Lize-Mari Doubell, and Maison Samuels of Webber Wentzel.
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Abdullah Haron, also known as Imam Haron, was a prominent South African Muslim cleric and anti-apartheid activist born on February 8, 1924, and tragically killed on September 27, 1969, by the Security Branch of the apartheid-era South African Police Force. His noteworthy anti-apartheid efforts led to his posthumous recognition with the Order of Luthuli in Gold in 2014 for his outstanding contribution to raising awareness of political injustices.
Haron, raised by his aunt after losing his mother as an infant, married Galiema Sadan in 1950, with whom he had three children, Muhammed, Fatiema, and Shamela. He became the Imam of the Al-Jamia Mosque in Claremont, Cape Town, in 1955, actively engaging in anti-apartheid activities and establishing the Claremont Muslim Youth Association in 1958. Additionally, he founded the community newspaper Muslim News in 1960.
In the 1960s, Haron encountered the Group Areas Act, which forced him to move to the demarcated coloured neighbourhood of Athlone. Despite these challenges, he continued to speak against apartheid policies, delivering notable speeches, including one at the Cape Town Drill Hall in 1961.
In 1968, Haron travelled to Mecca and engaged with influential figures to discuss educational issues. Advised to emigrate due to being targeted by the South African Security Branch, he returned to Cape Town, where he was arrested in May 1969. He was held in solitary confinement for 123 days, where he faced daily interrogations about his anti-apartheid involvement.
On the morning of 27 September 1969, Haron died under mysterious circumstances. The official government inquest claimed he fell down a flight of stairs, but his family argued that he died from a heart attack triggered by trauma. His funeral, attended by 40 000 mourners, marked a significant moment, coinciding with a destructive earthquake.
Haron’s death in custody marked him as the first cleric of any faith to die under the apartheid regime. His commemoration in St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 6 October 1969, highlighted his status as a martyr.
In 2019, on the 50th anniversary of Haron’s funeral, his widow passed away, prompting the family to demand a fresh inquest into the cause of his death. Visual artist Haroon Gunn-Salie paid tribute to Haron through various works, including the 2019 installation ‘Crying for Justice,’ symbolizing 118 unmarked graves for those who died in detention during apartheid.
Foundation for Human Rights
The Foundation for Human Rights 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 programmes: the Gender Based Violence and Femicide Programme (known as the ‘Masibambisane Programme’), the Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Programme, the Community Engagement Programme, and the Access to Justice 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 Team 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 are supported by Webber Wentzel include the matters of Imam Haron, Nokuthula Simelane, Adriaano Bambo and Caiphus Nyoka. In the past, Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Team acted as attorneys of record in the Ahmed Timol, COSAS 4 and Dr Neil Aggett matters. Mr Moray Hathorn continues to act as an attorney on record for the COSAS 4 and Aggett families in his current role at the Legal Resources Centre.