After years of lobbying, the family of social justice campaigner and Muslim cleric, Imam Abdullah Haron, finally got their proverbial day in court this year, when a reopened inquest into his 1969 death in detention got underway at the High Court in Cape Town.
Haron was imprisoned under the apartheid-era’s Terrorism Act in May 1969 and held incommunicado for 123 days. He was found dead in his cell at the Maitland Police station on the 27th of September that year.
The original inquest found that no one could be held responsible for his death, a finding that was never accepted by his family or community, who believe he was tortured and killed by the security police.
It was a day long-awaited by the Haron family, anti-apartheid activists and the community at large. An opportunity, they say, for the record to be set straight about the death of the respected cleric.
“An impression left by an inductive reading of the existing record is that the 1970 inquest was done under the critical watch, if not direction, of members of the security branch of the South African Police Service. At the risk of sounding to pre-judge the issues, it seems opposite that I should make a clarion call that this 2022 inquest is open to anyone who is able to provide relevant material information to assist the court in determining especially what happened to Imam Abdullah Haron between 28 May 1969 and 27 September 1969,” says Judge Daniel Thulare.
Inspections were held at the two police stations where the Imam was incarcerated., At the then Caledon Square, an aeronautical expert tested the version of the apartheid police that the Imam slipped and fell on the stairs, causing his many injuries – twenty-seven and a fractured rib as per the autopsy performed after his death.
“We saw that the actual distance traversed from falling to where he stopped was barely a metre in terms of how much he slid to receive so many injuries to the insides of his legs, the left and right side of his thighs. It’s hard to figure out that one fall, one action receiving so many injuries on his body”, aeronautical engineer Thivash Moodley said.
The court heard that the bruises on Haron’s body indicate that he was likely and repeatedly, beaten and kicked, over a period of time. In some instances while lying down. That the pain from bruises to his chest, legs and ankle would have been so severe and debilitating, that he would have been rendered immobilised.
“What I’m reading here, these would have been caused when there is resistance to movement, against these limbs. For example, if this person was lying prone, on the left side and then been struck with the ground causing the resistance, struck to cause such an injury that when such a wound will be caused.” said Dr Steve Naidoo, a specialist forensic pathologist.
VIDEO: Inquest into death of Imam Abdullah Haron, 11 Nov 2022:
The original inquest finding that the cause of death, in part, was attributed to a condition which occurs when blood flow to the heart is reduced, was also called into question.
“Dr Schwar says that in part the cause of death was myocardial ischaemia. However, he in his histology report, he makes no mention of the histological of the microscopic appearance of the heart muscle. In other words, he saw narrowing of the left coronary artery and he inferred, simply inferred that there must have been myocardial ischaemia, with no evidence whatsoever that indeed there was myocardial ischaemia,” says specialist forensic pathologist Dr Itumeleng Molefe.
VIDEO: Inquest describes apartheid security police as pure evil, 17 Nov 2022:
Spyker van Wyk reputation
An apartheid era policeman, who was the cell guard at Maitland police station maintained that he did not know anything about the security branch’s activities, Or much about the ” notorious” reputation of Spyker van Wyk, one of Haron’s main interrogators.
“I heard he’s a difficult man. What is a difficult person in your opinion? When you ask a question and I don’t give you the right answer, that’s being difficult. Would that include abuse? I can’t say that but those bruises there, it’s from being kicked, trampled on,” says witness Johannes Burger.
Van Wyk has however been described as pure evil by a former political detainee.
“The reality your lordship is the Spyker van Wyk, was an uncivilized barbarian. He took great pride in his cruelty. He wanted to prove to you that he could be as cruel as was humanly possible, so when they threatened to throw me off the stairs, that’s what he was trying to do. That’s what he said to me- don’t be too clever. I think words to that effect, this is where we killed Imam Haron, that’s what, he was pure evil, that’s what Spyker van Wyk is,” recollects Yousuf Gabru.
The Haron family has appealed to the court to help restore justice that had been missing for most of their lives. The Imam’s only son, was 12 years old at the time of his father’s arrest. He never saw his father alive again.
“We always believed my Lord that he was tortured right up till the end, and the bruises that he had were clear indications of someone who had to deal with this as an individual,” says Haron’s son, Muhammad.
A date for closing arguments is expected early next year.