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The Imam Haron Foundation

Relatives and friends of an imam who died 50 years ago while opposing racism in South Africa are still traumatised by his death, writes the BBC’s Penny Dale.

Two momentous events occurred in Cape Town in South Africa on 29 September 1969.

The first was a huge funeral march – some 40,000 people carried the coffin of Imam Abdullah Haron for about 10km (six miles) to his final resting place in Mowbray Muslim Cemetery.

And at night a rare and massive earthquake shook the earth.

For many who attended the funeral these two events are indelibly connected – they say the death of the pioneering 45-year-old South African imam was so painful and so shocking.

Imam Haron died in a police cell on 27 September, after 123 days of solitary confinement and daily interrogations about his involvement in the struggle against the racist system of apartheid, which ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president.

Imam Haron was the first cleric of any faith to die in custody under the apartheid regime. His death signalled that even men of God were not safe from an increasingly repressive, white-supremacist state.

Rugby The artist named after the imam

His death caused global outrage, and he became the first Muslim to be commemorated at the famous St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The security police said he died after falling down a flight of stairs.

They said the two broken ribs and 27 bruises on Imam Haron’s body had nothing to do with them, despite their notoriety for using torture and beatings.

The imam’s family say they do not accept “that lie”, and are demanding a fresh inquest to mark 50 years of his death.

Rugby The funeral procession of Imam Haron in Cape Town, 1969Image copyright
The Imam Haron Foundation

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Tens of thousands of people attended the imam’s funeral despite the risk of being arrested

Backing the campaign is visual artist Haroon Gunn-Salie – who is named in honour of the imam and has made several art works memorialising his life and death.

Gunn-Salie’s latest work, Crying for Justice, is an installation in the grounds of the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town – a symbolic burial ground of 118 unmarked graves, one for each of the people who he says died in detention during apartheid, including Imam Haron.

They were all held without trial – and the police said they fell down stairs, slipped in showers, or took it upon themselves to jump out of windows.

Rugby ‘A cry to the courts’

No-one has ever been held responsible for any of those deaths in detention,and it’s a sore, open wound for the families.

When finished, viewed from the castle ramparts, the graves Gunn-Salie has dug will spell out the word: Justice?

“The artwork is as much as a cry to the heavens as a cry to the courts,” says Gunn-Salie.

“It’s a public statement asking, quite literally, to unbury the past, to dig up the files, to dig up the evidence, and bring closure to the families.”

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Sadly, his 93-year-old widow Galiema Haron died on Sunday, exactly 50 years after her husband’s funeral, without achieving closure.

In a tribute to her, governing African National Congress MP Faiez Jacobs said: “Widowed by what appeared to have been a deliberate killing, she raised her children alone, always wondering how her beloved husband had died.

“If the apartheid rulers thought the

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