To: All Media
ATT: News Editors, Human Rights Reporters
For Immediate Release
05 October 2023
Judgment in the reopened Imam Abdullah Haron Inquest to be handed down on 9 October 2023
Press Statement by the Foundation for Human Rights and Webber Wentzel
On 9 October 2023, Judge Daniel Thulare will hand down judgment in the reopened inquest of Imam Abdullah Haron at the Western Cape High Court. Imam Haron, a political activist and Imam at Cape Town’s Stegman Road Mosque, was arrested on 28 May 1969 under the Terrorism Act, held in solitary confinement for 123 days, subjected to near-daily interrogations, and succumbed to his death in police custody at Maitland Police Station on 27 September 1969.
Throughout his detention, Haron was held in solitary confinement. He was kept in his cell and only ‘authorised’ people had access to him. At the time Mrs Catherine Taylor, a member of the then United Party, raised Haron’s ongoing detention before parliament, but the then Minister of Police, Mr Muller, had responded that it was “not in the public interest” to know why Haron was detained.
Imam Haron was critical of apartheid and had close ties with the then banned Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).
His death in detention caused an outpouring of grief: over 40 000 people came to pay their final respects to him on 29 September 1969.
The Security Police testified that Haron had slipped on stairs at the Caledon Square Police Station on 19 September 1969. 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. 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.
Overview of Reopened Inquest
By the time of the reopened inquest, the two persons of material interest to Haron’s detention, Security Branch officers “Spyker” van Wyk and Dirk Genis, had died.
Imam Haron’s children, Fatiema Haron-Masoet, Muhammed Haron, and Shamela Shamis gave testimony at the reopened inquest. So did former political detainees, expert witnesses, and a former police officer.
Thivash Moodley, an aeronautical engineer, contradicted the 1970 police account, asserting that Haron’s injuries did not align with a fall down a flight of stairs.
Pathologist Dr Steve Naidoo attested that the injuries resulted from blunt force, likely due to repeated assaults. According to Dr Naidoo, Haron’s injuries suggested he had been kicked and violently trampled while on the floor in the days leading up to his death. Similarly, pathologist Dr Molefe concluded that Imam Haron’s bruises were significant; and contributed to the cause of death. Dr Molefe ultimately concluded that the injuries sustained by Haron were the underlying primary cause of death.
Johannes Burger, the only surviving member of the then South African Police (SAP) who had contact with Haron during detention, claimed ignorance about the treatment of political detainees. However, having seen post-mortem drawings, Burger believed Haron died due to torture.
Significantly, the Haron family informed the Judge at the conclusion of the reopened inquest that they did not wish to see Burger prosecuted. Burger was one of the youngest and lowest-ranking officers at the time of the Imam’s death. The family expressed their sentiment that “there is a certain unfairness in holding a person of such stature as the only person criminally liable in such circumstances.”
We await the upcoming inquest judgment with a profound sense of hope and anticipation. We hope this judgment will bring more than a legal decision, it is a promise of closure for the grieving Haron family who have long sought answers and justice. As we look forward to the verdict, we remain committed to the pursuit of truth, justice, and the honouring of the Imam’s legacy. May the judgment bring solace to the family and inspire positive change in our society.
The reopened inquest was requested by the Haron family. The family was represented pro bono by Webber Wentzel, and advocates Howard Varney and Naefa Kahn appeared for the family. The FHR secured experts and supported the payment of some counsel fees.
The detailed account of the reopened inquest is available here. Evidence was heard from 7 to 16 November 2022, and closing arguments were heard on 24 and 25 April 2023.
For media enquiries contact:
Ms Lindiwe Sithole, Media and Communications Specialist, FHR at email@example.com or 082 634 7154
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 organisation 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 Access to Justice Programme, the Gender Justice Programme, the Unfinished Business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Programme, and the Community Engagement 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 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (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.