To: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For immediate release
Tuesday, 18 April 2023
Closing arguments in the Reopened Imam Abdullah Haron Inquest to be heard on 24 and 25 April 2023
Press Release by the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) and Webber Wentzel Attorneys
On 24 and 25 April 2023 the Cape Town High Court will hear closing arguments by the parties in the re-opened inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist. The reopened inquest heard evidence from 7 to 16 November 2022.
Haron was an Imam at the Stegman Road Mosque in Cape Town and a political activist. Having developed close ties with the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), a banned organisation at that time, and having become increasingly critical of the government’s apartheid policies, he was detained under the then Terrorism Act on 28 May 1969. For 123 days, he was held in solitary confinement, interrogated almost daily and assaulted an unknown number of times. He died in a police cell on 27 September 1969.
Because the Imam had died in police custody, an inquest was held in 1970. Despite the evidence in the post-mortem report of clear trauma to Haron’s body, which included a broken rib and 27 visible bruises on different parts of his body, inquest magistrate JSP Kuhn ruled that no one was to blame for his death.
Summary of evidence at the reopened inquest
Several witnesses testified at the reopened inquest including Fatiema Haron-Masoet, Muhammed Haron and Shamela Shamis (the children of Imam Haron), former political detainees, expert witnesses and a former police officer. Aeronautical engineer, Thivash Moodley, testified that the injuries on Haron’s body were inconsistent with the 1970 police version that all the injuries were sustained during a fall down stairs. Pathologist Dr Steve Naidoo testified that the injuries on Haron’s body were caused by blunt force, likely as a result of being repeatedly assaulted. According to Dr Naidoo, Haron’s injuries were consistent with him having been kicked and stomped while he lay on the floor, in the last days before his death.
Johannes Burger, the only surviving member of the then South African Police (SAP) to have had contact with Haron whilst he was in detention, claimed that he knew nothing about how political detainees were treated by the Security Branch. Burger said although he did not witness Haron being tortured, that after recently seeing the post-mortem drawings, he was sure that Haron had died as a result of torture. Adv Howard Varney, the lead counsel for the family, challenged Burger’s version under cross examination and said he was lying under oath.
Stephanie Kemp described how she was tortured by sergeant “Spyker” Van Wyk, one of the Security Police responsible for Haron during his solitary confinement. Van Wyk had slapped her face, grabbed her hair and pounded her head on the floor until she lost consciousness.
Shamela Shamis explained how her mother’s world fell apart on the day her father died, and she sadly died, having waited 50 years for justice, without seeing justice being done. Fatiema Haron-Masoet testified that because she was only seven when her father died, she had little information about him, causing her great anguish. Muhammed Haron, testified that as Haron’s son, he attended the Islamic rite of washing his father’s body, when they saw the bruises all over his body.
The reopening of the inquest was a result of ongoing pressure on the NPA by the Haron family, the Foundation for Human Rights and the Webber Wentzel Pro Bono Unit between 2017 and 2022. The FHR covered the costs of an independent investigation into Haron’s death and also covered the costs of independent experts and junior counsel, while Webber Wentzel acted on a pro bono basis. Advocate Howard Varney is lead counsel on the case and is supported by Advocate Naefa Kahn.
The full record of the re-opened inquest can be accessed here.
For media enquiries contact:
Mx Kholekile Mnisi, Media and Communications Specialist, FHR at email@example.com or 0656130977
For more information contact:
Ms Odette Geldenhuys, a legal representative for the Haron Family, at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the Unfinished Business of the TRC Programme, contact Katarzyna Zdunczyk at email@example.com
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 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 or were supported by Webber Wentzel include the matters of Ahmed Timol, Dr Neil Aggett, Imam Haron, COSAS 4, Nokuthula Simelane and Caiphus Nyoka.