Imam Haron inquest: Apartheid's security police weren't 'normal human beings' - political detainee

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Imam Abdullah Haron
Imam Abdullah Haron
PHOTO: Imam Haron Foundation/Facebook
  • Yousuf Gabru testified at the reopened inquest into the death in detention of Imam Abdullah Haron. 
  • He said the interrogators knew no limits. 
  • Gabru said everybody was complicit - from the police to the magistrates.

When Yousuf Gabru was arrested for being in possession of a list of the titles of Marxist books, as well as the names of students injured or hospitalised during anti-apartheid protests, the Security Branch wanted to know who they were and where he got their names from. 

"We weren't trained for interrogation," he said at the reopened inquest into the death in detention of Imam Abdullah Haron on 27 September 1969. 

"We had the idea that you would sit there and say nothing," he told Judge Daniel Thulare on Wednesday. "That lasted for about five minutes."

He was given a hard smack and then punched repeatedly. 

"I remember that first day very clearly. It put the fear of God in me," said Gabru. 

His crime was to facilitate legal help, via the late Dullah Omar, for students who were arrested during the many protests against apartheid in Cape Town.

READ | Last surviving cop in Imam Haron death says it will all be 'piled onto him' 

During the in-loco inspection of Cape Town Central police station, he showed the judge where the political prisoners were kept and where he was held. 

"I was interrogated almost every day," said Gabru. "I was punched and beaten almost every day."

Gabru is among the former political detainees assisting the court in deciding whether Haron slipped down steps on 19 September, injuring himself so severely that he died on 27 September, or whether he died because he was so severely beaten during interrogation that he died of those injuries. 

The cell at Maitland Police Station where Imam Haron died. The cell was inspected by family members in November.

He said the Security Branch even knew he had been treasurer for a pupils' support committee in Lenasia, the area where the apartheid government forced the children it considered not white in Vrededorp, Johannesburg, to attend school. 

He added that he was not allowed to study pure mathematics at university because he could not get permission from the authorities to attend the University of Cape Town or the University of the Witwatersrand because of the whites-only rule at universities. To attend, he would have to be granted an exemption from this law, and the authorities would not give it. 

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He studied mathematics in London, where he came into contact with ANC activists. 

Gabru said the Security Branch had no limits when it came to cruelty during interrogation. 

He said:

You shouldn't think of them as normal human beings.

"They were completely abnormal."

He said one of the torturers, Spyker van Wyk, brought his son to the police station after church and proceeded to parade Gabru to Van Wyk junior. 

"He said to his son: 'This is what a communist looks like'.

"So that is the type of people we are talking about," said Gabru.

The inquest continues. 

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