Abdullah Haron

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Abdullah Haron
Born(1924-02-08)8 February 1924
Newlands-Claremont area, Cape Town, South Africa
DisappearedMay 28, 1969 (aged 45)
Caledon Square Police Station
Died27 September 1969(1969-09-27) (aged 45)
Cape Town, South Africa
Cause of deathtorture
ResidenceCape Town, South Africa
NationalitySouth African
CitizenshipSouth African
OccupationMuslim cleric
Al-Jamia Mosque, Claremont, Cape Town
Known foranti-apartheid activist, community leader
Spouse(s)Galiema Sadan

Abdullah Haron (8 February 1924 – 27 September 1969), also known as Imam Haron, was a South African Muslim cleric and anti-apartheid activist. He is best known for his anti-apartheid activism and subsequent death by the Security Branch of the apartheid-era South African Police Force in 1969.

Early life and education[edit]

Haron was born the youngest child from a family of five children. He was raised by his childless aunt on his father's side following his mother's death when he was still an infant. On 15 March 1950 he married Galiema Sadan and the couple later had three children.[1]

After graduating grade 6 from Talfalah Primary School he travelled to Mecca to pursue Islamic studies, where he was taught by Sheikh Alawi al-Maliki. He returned to Cape Town after two years and continued his studies with Sheikh Abdullah Taha Gamieldien and Shaykh Ismail Ganief. He was influenced by the thinking of the Teachers' League of South Africa and the Non-European Unity Movement through family members who were members of the organisations.[1]

Anti-apartheid activities[edit]

He was made the Imam of the Al-Jamia Mosque in Claremont, Cape Town in 1955 where he setup discussion groups and engaged in anti-apartheid activities. In 1958 he established the Claremont Muslim Youth Association[2] and went on to establish the community newspaper Muslim News (1960-1986). In the 1960s Haron met Pan African Congress (PAC) member and activist Barney Desai through whom he first contacted the PAC. In 1965 he was affected by the Group Areas Act and was forced to move from his family home on Jefferson Road, Lansdowne to Repulse Road in the demarcated Coloured neighbourhood of Athlone. Haron gave a number of speeches and sermons against apartheid policies and laws including a notable speech at the Cape Town Drill Hall on 7 May 1961 where he described the Group Areas Act as "inhuman, barbaric and un-Islamic".[1]

In 1968 he travelled to Mecca where he met Saudi King Faysal and Saudi Minister of Education Hasan `Abdullah `Ali Shaykh to discuss educational issues. He then went on to Cairo where he met PAC members and address a conference of Muslim representatives that was also attended by the PAC and African National Congress. He then went on to London via the Netherlands, where he met with the Director of the International University Exchange Fund, Lars Gunner Erickson. While abroad he was informed that he had become a target of the South African Security Branch and was advised to emigrate. He returned to Cape Town due to concerns for his father's ill health, after his application to emigrate to Canada was rejected.[1]


Haron was arrested shortly after his return to Cape Town when he was summoned to the Security Branch office at the Caledon Square Police Station (now Cape Town Central Police Station) on 28 May 1969. He was detained by police Special Branch member Spyker van Wyk and held in solitary confinement for 123 days, with daily interrogations about his involvement in the struggle.[3] During this period United Party MP Catherine Taylor issued an official request for information into the reason for Haron's detention. The Minister of police stated that giving such information "was not in the public interest".[1]

In the morning of 27 September 1969 he died. The official government inquest, revealing that he had sustained two broken ribs and 27 bruises,[3] into his death ruled that he died from falling down a flight of stairs. Haron's family and attorney argued that he had "died as a result of a heart attack which was triggered off by trauma".[4][2][5]

On 29 September, his funeral was attended by 40,000 mourners, with his coffin carried about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to its final resting place in the Muslim cemetery in Mowbray.[6] On the night of his funeral, the most destructive earthquake in the recorded history of South Africa, with its epicentre at Tulbagh in the Western Cape.[3]

Aftermath, legacy and significance[edit]

Haron was the first cleric of any faith to die in custody under the apartheid regime, thus signalling increased repression. On 6 October 1969, Haron was the first Muslim commemorated in St Paul's Cathedral in London. His friend, Canon John Collins, spoke of him as a martyr.[3]

After his 93-year-old widow, Galiema, died on the 50th anniversary of her husband's funeral on 29 September 2019, the imam's family demanded a fresh inquest into the cause of his death.[3]

Visual artist Haroon Gunn-Salie has created several works as memorials to Haron, including the 2019 installation "Crying for Justice" in the in the grounds of the Castle of Good Hope, symbolising 118 unmarked graves, one for each person who died in detention during apartheid years.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Abdullah Imam Haron". South African History Online. Updated 30 September 2019. 17 February 2011. Retrieved 2 October 2019.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ a b "The unwavering legacy of Imam Abdullah Haron | Cape Argus". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Dale, Penny (1 October 2019). "The imam who died fighting racism in South Africa". Article accompanies episode of The Documentary Podcast; additional reporting by Audrey Brown. BBC News. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  4. ^ Davis, Rebecca. "A man of principle: The life and death of Imam Haron". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  5. ^ Malgas, Natalie. "Imam Abdullah Haron remembered in an intimate ceremony". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  6. ^ https://www.sahistory.org.za/people/abdullah-imam-haron

Further reading[edit]