Unsung Hero - Imam Abdullah Haron

The valour and good deeds of patriotic heroes of the national liberation struggle often serves to provide inspiration to new generations of leaders. Patriots are a beacon of light for new pathfinders. Those who may be groping in the dark will only have themselves to blame if they are later found to have been lazy to search further for exemplary roles, and are themselves one dimensional and blinkered in the way they handle social issues, imbibing only from the official list of what is termed national, patriotic and heroic.

The group in power will always shine the light on its own version of heroes, in a biased and sectarian manner, and they will deliberately exclude social movements and great personalities they are embarrassed to acknowledge or give official recognition to. The dominant perspective of history at any given time is often that of the ruling party, and it is that of the newly-rich class in power. The post apartheid South African government is no exception to this trend.

At the rate at which they surround themselves with flatterers, hangers-on and praise singers, it is no wonder that the leaders of government organs fail to understand why their cosmetic reforms at macro levels of the superstructure result negatively in an outburst of mass uprisings against the lack of delivery of services in poor and marginalised communities. They flaunt their ill-gotten material wealth and exhibit these to the public as rewards for their role in the struggle.

The story of true patriotic heroes who gave themselves to the struggle for change and transformation is also the story of hope. Not vain hope of those who hope for the sake of hoping. This is the combination of visions for greater good of the nation as a whole, and decisive action to attain those goals, matched with critical reflections on the meaning of that action to continue with improvements to perform even better in the struggle for change and transformation.

The Imam Abdullah Haron should have long been given the Order of the Companions of RM Sobukwe, as a patriotic hero and a martyr of the struggle to build a new emancipated nation. The authorities have not done so because Abdullah Haron’s life and the choices he made would have reflected a diametrical opposite picture of what they stand for today.

At the time of his brutal death in detention, under Section Six of the Terrorism Act, he was the Imam of the Al Jaamia mosque in Claremont, Cape Town. He died 123 days after he was arrested on 28 March 1969 by the Special Branch security police. His sadistic captors, led by the notorious Spyker Van Wyk, applied several methods of torture and were apparently donnering (savage beatings) the hell out of the helpless man almost every other day. He managed to smuggle out a note saying, “If you hear that I have died in prison by accident, you will know that it will not have been an accident.” The inquest magistrate, one SJ Kuhn, found that the trauma was caused by an accidental fall down a flight of stone stairs. He accepted the unrepentant blue lies from police evidence that Abdullah Haron slipped on a bar of soap.

The Imam Haron belonged to an underground unit in the Western Cape of the then banned Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania. He was non-denominational when he worked with Muslims, Christian missionary and Independent churches doing pastoral work in the Cape flats and surrounding townships.

The conditions of institutionalised squalor and poverty in these areas, he surmised, could only be resolved by concerted revolutionary action. He worked on the Muslim Judicial Council to open their vistas and widen their reach in all communities of South Africa so that the word of God could be spread widely. God was on the side of the oppressed. On his pilgrimages to Mecca, the Imam Haron lobbied the King of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic World Council to respond against oppression in South Africa. He mobilised the faith community in Egypt to support the struggle against settler colonialism and apartheid. He worked with Cannon Collins and the officials of the International Defence and Aid Fund to support released political prisoners who were banished to places such as Dimbaza in the Ciskei Bantustan. The Imam did mass work, diplomatic service, Party administration and back room support, and courier activities between the PAC external mission and the internal underground leadership.

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