Tears flow as jail cell visited during inquest into Imam Abdullah Haron’s death-in-detention

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Nkosinathi Biko and children of Imam Abdullah Haron at Haron's death inquest at the Cape Town High Court.
Nkosinathi Biko and children of Imam Abdullah Haron at Haron's death inquest at the Cape Town High Court.
Gallo/ Brenton Geach
  • The family of anti-apartheid cleric Imam Abdullah Haron wept inside the cell at Maitland police station where he was found dead. 
  • Haron died in detention in September 1969 and the inquest concluded he died from injuries caused by slipping down steps. 
  • The family never accepted this common explanation for death in detention.

Tears flowed inside the dark and stinking police cell where the anti-apartheid cleric Imam Abdullah Haron's lifeless body was found at Maitland police station in 1969 while being detained without trial.

As the Haron siblings - Fatiema, Muhammed and Shamela - cried softly as Sheikh Irfaan Abrahams prayed for them inside the gloomy cell with a toilet in the corner.  

"I asked for contentment for hearts of the families and to grant that their pain is eased," Abrahams, the president of the Muslim Judicial Council, told News24 after the poignant pilgrimage. 

Earlier, the inspection in-loco led by Judge Daniel Thulare walked around the innards of the Cape Town Central police station, known as Caledon Square at the time Haron was arrested for alleged terrorism against the apartheid state. 

The dark cells with coarse blankets and dirty stainless-steel toilets were opened for the family to see some of Haron's final steps for themselves. 

The family was also taken to multiple flights of stairs within the building, and finally to the stairs which two Security Branch officers Dirk Kotze Genis and Sergeant Johannes "Spyker" van Wyk claimed he fell down.  

READ | Apartheid-era 'fell down the stairs' death of Imam Haron challenged in reopened inquest

The inquest was assisted by former political prisoners Achmad Cassiem and Yousuf Gabru, who solemnly explained where they walked to and from interrogations and the hard cold dark cells they slept in, and with Colonel Deon Petersen from the police's cold cases unit, who put an enormous amount of work into reconstructing a case file because the original is missing.

Haron was moved from Caledon Square to Maitland police station on 11 August but still transported to the Cape Town Central police station for interrogation. 

His family does not accept the findings of an inquest held in 1971, which concluded many of the 27 bruises and the broken rib detected during a post-mortem were likely caused by him falling down the stairs. 

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 08: Cape Town C
Cape Town Central Police Station during the Imam Haron inquest inspection on 8 November 2022 in Cape Town.
Gallo/ Brenton Geach

Aeronautical engineer Thivesh Moodley stood on the steps and told the inquest delegation Haron had allegedly slipped while rounding the final flat part to the last row of steps that led to the ground floor. 

Back on the witness stand, he was led by advocate Howard Varney on behalf of the Haron family and explained the difference between falling backwards or forwards and the injuries most likely to have been sustained in either scenario, given Haron was 1.7m in height, the height of the steps, and from which step he fell. 

This is Moodley's fifth inquest, where he has assisted either the National Prosecuting Authority or private legal teams in re-examining deaths in detention. 

The inquest continues. 


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