By Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
On Wednesday the 27th September 2017 we commemorate the 48th anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Abdullah Haron. After being held incommunicado for 123 days by the South African state security in an apartheid prison, Imam Haron died on September 27, 1969. During an inquest into his death, police argued that the injuries he sustained were from falling down a flight of stairs at the Maitland police station in Cape Town. In a subsequent autopsy report revealed 28 bruises on the Imam’s body, mostly on the legs. He had a haematoma (internal bleeding) 2cm x 2.5cm near the base of the spine. His stomach was empty and his 7th rib was broken. The vast majority of ordinary South Africans never believed the Apartheid police version of Imam Haron’s death.
Re-Inquest into the Death of Imam Haron
In light of the current inquest into the ‘real’ cause of the death of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, whom the Apartheid security police claim committed suicide by jumping from the tenth floor of the John Vorster Square Police station in Johannesburg in 1971, it might be judicious and apposite for us to encourage and support the Haron family to consider calling for a re-inquest into the ‘real’ cause of the death of Imam Abdullah Haron.
The case for a re-inquest is justified by the fact that his death provoked the most vocal and sustained campaign of outrage against deaths in detention in the early seventies. Both the Apartheid Ministers of Police and Justice confessed in May 1971 that “there were certain bruises on his (Haron’s) body which the state inquiry could not account for” and “that there was the probability of negligence which might have to be taken into account” (Cape Argus, 30 September 1970). In lieu of his death in detention, the Apartheid state gave the Imam’s widow a meagre ex-gratia payment which the Ministers disingenuously pointed out should in no way be construed as an admission of guilt (Cape Times, 19 may 1971). Perhaps the much anticipated outcome of the Timol inquest will have a decisive impact on the call for a re-inquest into the ‘real’ cause of the death of Imam Haron.
Imam Abdullah Haron bequeathed to us a rich and unwavering legacy from which we can derive much social relevance today. In my 2009 tribute to the Imam, I reflected on three significant dimensions of his life, namely, empowering Muslim youth, interfaith solidarity and breaking down racial barriers. Amongst the many tributes paid to him annually during this time, the lasting memory of Imam Haron is that of a Muslim leader who strived for justice against the Apartheid regime and was passionate about breaking down racial, cultural and religious barriers.
Imam Haron’s Contribution to Non-Racialism in Sport
Imam Haron enjoyed an intense love of sports and made great contributions to nonracialism in sport, which left an indelible mark on the people he interacted with. I would therefore like to pay tribute to this more personal dimension of his life. Focusing on this dimension of Imam Haron’s life also follows our recent tributes to several rugby legends who played in the non-racial South African Rugby Union (SARU), such as Salie Fredericks, Welile James Nkohla, Yusuf Allie, Achmat Isaacs and Salie Dollie, who passed on during the past year 2017.
Abdullah Haron was a keen sportsman throughout his youth and participated fully in the sports activities of the Claremont community where he grew up. During the forties and early fifties he played cricket for the Greenroses Cricket Club and served as club secretary from 1942 until 1946. He subsequently joined the breakaway Muslims Cricket Club. One of the highlights of his career was in 1957 when he played in the finals for the Muslims Cricket Club against the then Cape Town based Roslyns Cricket Club. Haron was also a keen rugby player for the Watsonian Rugby Football Club.
He played at scrumhalf and used to wear a jersey inscribed in Arabic numerals instead of Roman numerals. In 1955 when he was appointed as Imam of the Al-Jaamia Masjid in Stegman Road, Claremont, he continued to play a key role at the Primroses Rugby club. Imam Haron was also very supportive of Primroses joining the City and Suburban Rugby Union in 1963 as opposed to playing in the predominantly Muslim, Western Province Rugby Union, both affiliated to the non-racial South African Rugby Union (SARU). This move challenged the cultural and religious seperation that was at risk of becoming institutionalised on them sports field. During his tenure as Imam, Haron advised his congregants and the nonwhite rugby fraternity to boycott the Newlands Rugby grounds which was reserved for White players only.
He was a regular supporter of club rugby and built a house directly opposite the City Park Rugby Stadium in Athlone, which is the home ground of the City and Suburban Rugby Union. His balcony provided an ideal view from which to watch the weekly games with tea and refreshments served to young and old who joined him. Whenever he observed foul play or inappropriate behaviour on the field, Imam Haron made a point of addressing it during his weekly classes or sermons at the Stegman Road masjid. He relished good
sporting skills and talents and loathed dirty play. His motto was “speel die bal nie die man
nie (play the ball and not the man)”.
Imam Haron also provided religious and moral mentorship to many players. Rugby legend, Yusuf “Jowa” Abrahams fondly remembers his beloved Imam driving all the way to Port Elizabeth to watch him play his debut game for SARU. Cricket legend, Rushdie Majiet, recalls that Imam Haron supported him when he had to play cricket during Ramadan (the fasting month). Imam Haron encouraged him to continue fasting by providing him with some useful tips. When Rushdie went to play in the Lancashire League in England
1968, Imam Haron supported him at a time when the Muslim community was very conservative and feared that their offspring would be exposed to “Christian Western Values”. Imam Haron reassured him that he could maintain his Muslim identity and value system while playing in a foreign country.
Imam Haron’s love for sport was enduring, and at the time of his death, he served as a patron
of the City and Suburban Rugby Union. It was thus fitting that Imam Haron’s funeral
prayers took place at the City Park Rugby Stadium opposite his home where more than
thirty thousand mourners from all sectors of Cape Town’s diverse community turned his
funeral into a ritualized form of defiance against the Apartheid regime.
Passing on Imam Haron’s Legacy
The critical challenge facing us is to find creative and innovative ways of dispensing Imam Haron’s comprehensive vision of Islam, which included active participation in sports to new generations of youth. In this regard I would like to commend the efforts of the Imam Abdullah Haron Education Trust (IAHET) to memorialize and institutionalize Imam Haron’s legacy by supporting and empowering marginalized youth and communities through education.
The IAHET has also established an annual Imam Haron Memorial Lecture. This year the lecture featured a conversation between two young women activists, Raeesa Pather and Fasiha Hassan. They affirmed one of Imam Haron’s great legacies of empowering youth and bearing witness to the profound manner in which young people can open our eyes to the challenges of rapidly changing times. This annual lecture provides
an opportunity to honour the legacy of Imam Haron and keep his memory alive in the consciousness of today’s youth.
We cherish the comforting words of the tribute delivered by the late Victor Wessels at Imam
“Imam Haron’s mission was the mission of the people, but he died not only for the Muslims.
He died for his cause – the cause of the oppressed people, and for that he will be remembered.”