Imam Haron

Members of the Haron family and Nlosinathi Biko outside Maitland Police Station during an inspection in loco during the reopened inquest into the death of Imam Abdullah Haron. Image: Storm Simpson.

Imam Haron’s family edges closer to truth and justice in reopened inquest

The State and family pointed to the responsibility of the apartheid government in Haron’s death and implicated suspects in his torture and murder.

Imam Haron

Members of the Haron family and Nlosinathi Biko outside Maitland Police Station during an inspection in loco during the reopened inquest into the death of Imam Abdullah Haron. Image: Storm Simpson.

More than 50 years after the 1970 inquest found that no one could be blamed for Imam Abdullah Haron’s death in police custody, his family edges closer to justice and having the truth of what happened during the 123 days he spent in detention stand as the official record.

READ: As it happened: Imam Haron Inquest closing arguments – Day 2


The reopened inquest was held over eight days before Judge Daniel Thulare in the Cape Town High Court in November 2022, and closing arguments were heard in the same court on 24 and 25 April 2023.

State Prosecutor Advocate Lifa Matyobeni summed it up best on Tuesday afternoon when he said the State and family –represented by Webber Wentzel’s pro-bono unit – were singing from the same hymn book.

READ: Letters on a biscuit box: How messages were smuggled from Imam Haron’s jail cell

Advocate Howard Varney, for the family, spent the bulk of the two days weaving together the many testimonies from medical experts and political detainees. Matyobeni, in contrast, presented his closing argument in about 45 minutes.

Like the family’s legal representatives, the State asked Judge Thulare to set aside the 1970 inquest overseen by Additional Magistrate JSP Kuhn.

The Security Branch claimed that Haron had sustained his many injuries in a single fall down a flight of stone stairs – evidence suggests this story was concocted to cover up the torture he was subjected to during his detention.

After Haron was found dead in his Maitland Police Station cell on 27 September 1969, everything that followed – from the autopsy to the inquest and its findings – was manipulated to hide the truth.

Last year, medical experts testified that the Imam’s injuries could not have been sustained in a fall and that his death was linked to the assault he suffered, and an engineering expert also said the tale of the fall had no basis in reality.

READ: WATCH: Expert says Imam Haron’s injuries couldn’t have been caused by a fall

“If the security branch lied about the torture, then they lied about everything,” said Matyobeni.

The State said Haron died at the hands of the security police and recommended that the matter be referred to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

According to the State, the suspects are Haron’s chief interrogators – Major Dirk Kotze Genis and Sergeant Johannes Petrus Francois “Spyker” van Wyk. Genis was the commander of the Haron investigation, while van Wyk, an infamous torturer of political detainees, was in charge of the interrogation. Both are dead.

Other suspects include Lieutenant Carel Johannes Frazier Pienaar, the overall commander of the Security Branch in Cape Town and Captain Ebanis Geldenhuys, a branch officer.

Family seeks accountability for all those involved in the death

The family had a much longer list of suspects who should be punished for their role in Haron’s death and the subsequent cover-up, stretching from the Security Branch to the uniformed police, including then-Constable Johannes Hendrik Burger, who testified last year, medical and legal professionals.

Varney said all police officers who testified in the first inquest perjured themselves to some degree and said to Judge Thulare that Burger – the last living policeman from the time of Haron’s detention – did the same by making false claims during the reopened inquest.

READ: Imam Haron Inquest: Apartheid-era cop says he didn’t know the security branch tortured people

Among the false claims was his denial of any knowledge that the Security Branch tortured and abused political detainees and that he was unaware Haron had been abused until he saw sketches of his body 50 years later.

Burger also said the Imam seemed healthy and had no complaints about an hour before he was found dead in his Maitland Police Station cell.

Varney said the family does not want Burger to be prosecuted for perjury as he was among the youngest and lowest-ranking officers at the police station in 1969. “He was a bit player with no real decision-making authority.”

READ: Imam Haron Inquest: Family lawyers say apartheid cop was an evasive witness

The Haron family do not want to see him prosecuted because the people who should be facing justice are dead, and prosecuting Burger will not bring them any peace.

“During the month of Ramadan, adherents ask for and preach forgiveness. Burger has his own conscience to live with in his advanced age,” said the family.

The family’s legal representatives also recommended that Doctors Viviviers and Gosling and the Chief State Pathologist for Cape Town, Dr Schwar disregarded the Hippocratic Oath in dealing with Haron and asked the court to refer the relevant parts of the inquest record to the medical council for consideration as to whether their names should be posthumously struck from the roll of medical professionals.

READ: Imam Haron Inquest:  Sustained assault the root cause of ‘Imam’s demise’ – court hears

The family seeks the same punishment for Additional Magistrate JSP Kuhn, who oversaw the 1970 inquest, and State Prosecutor JS van Graan.

“We have demonstrated in these proceedings that the Imam was subjected to vicious and unrelenting torture during his 123 days in detention.

 “After the most brutal period of abuse inflicted during the three-day extraction, he was specifically denied medical treatment, to avoid the obvious signs of his torture from being detected.

“Those involved in the torture, and who decided to deny him medical attention, murdered the Imam. We have asked this Honourable Court to make that finding,” said Varney in part of his conclusion.

Judge Thulare reserved judgement.

READ: Imam Haron Inquest: Pathologist says injuries that led to death likely caused by assault – not a fall