Fifty years ago, in 1969, seven men were killed in detention for their political beliefs. The family of the seventh man is about to launch a campaign to bring attention to these freedom fighters known by few South Africans.

The seventh man, the last to die in 1969, Imam Abdullah Haron, then editor of Muslim News, was brutally killed on 27 September 1969.  His three children, Shamela Shamis, Muhammed Haron, and Fatima Haron-Masoet have stepped out of the shadows in a bid to ensure they will not be forgotten.

On their father’s birthday on 8 February 2019, they will launch a campaign and hope to face the media with some of the other families similarly affected 50 years ago. Those are the families of Nicodemus Kgoathe, Solomon Modipane, Jame Lenkoe, Caleb Mayekiso, Michael Shivute, and Jacob Manakgotla.

“We want to remember and recall the Imam’s brutal killing at the hands of the notorious Security Branch as well as those of others that year and subsequently,” said his son, Dr Muhammed Haron, a senior academic at the University of Botswana.  “They strove for justice individually and communally and transcended obstacles and barriers impeding society in attaining it,” he said. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

The family is exploring the possibility of following in the footsteps of the Timol family and asking for a reopening of the inquest into the killing of their father. With the campaign designed to cover 123 days of the Imam’s detention, from May to September, considerable attention will fall onto the families whose loved ones were brutally killed in detention and the perpetrators of these deeds. Young South Africans may find it startling to find the apartheid state had systematically murdered many community activists and leaders in detention.  “The most well-known murder was Steve Biko but there were also so many others,” said Dr Haron.

All indications are that more families may decide to demand a reopening of inquests into the deaths of their loved ones. Many of these families and survivors of torture agreed to the bargain made at the time of the negotiated settlement. This bargain was premised on truth telling in exchange for amnesty with the understanding that those perpetrators who did not come forward or were not granted amnesty would be prosecuted.  The Haron family did not participate in the TRC hearings but others who did also had no luck in prosecution of the security policemen who killed their loved ones.

At the end of the TRC process, at least 400 cases were identified and referred to the National Prosecuting Authority.  Only about 37 were selected for further prosecutions but then even those cases did not find closure.

When the executive mayor of Polokwane, Thembisile Nkadimeng, filed an application in 2015 to force the NPA to make a decision regarding the prosecution of four members of the apartheid security branch involved in the disappearance and murder of her sister Nokuthula Simelane in 1983, she struck a legal minefield. She has pursued the matter relentlessly fighting each legal blockage since then. For now she and her family wait for the trial to resume now that the men have won their right for the state to pay their legal costs.

Evidence has emerged in recent court papers that the lack of prosecution has been a result of a deliberate intervention by the Thabo Mbeki administration.

In court papers, Imtiaz Cajee, the nephew of murdered anti-apartheid activist and Roodepoort teacher Ahmed Timol, has called the NPA’s failure to investigate and prosecute former apartheid policemen who were denied amnesty for their crimes by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) a “deep betrayal of all those who participated in good faith in the TRC process”.

“I will be calling for an inquiry into those prosecutors and police who failed in their duties to uphold the rule of law,” Cajee stated in court papers.

The court papers were filed in opposition of an application by former Security Branch clerk João “Jan” Rodrigues for a permanent stay of prosecution. Rodrigues has been charged with the murder of Timol and defeating the ends of justice after a reopened inquest into Timol’s death last year found that he was involved in the activist’s murder in 1971.

If Rodrigues fails in his bid to halt the prosecution against him, then he will be the first apartheid cop to stand trial for the death of a freedom fighter in detention.

In the court papers, affidavits filed by former NPA national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli and prosecutor Anton Ackermann in 2015 detail how Cabinet members sought to unduly interfere in the prosecution and investigation of TRC-related cases.

Pikoli alleged that the political interference was the result of a fear by the ANC that should prosecutions begin, the ANC too could face investigations for some of its actions in the struggle against apartheid.

Cajee has further stated in the court papers that he would make a recommendation to President Ramaphosa once the court proceedings in Rodrigues’ application for a permanent stay of prosecution wraps up.

“It has to come from the president directly and it has to be prioritised. We cannot ask the same NPA to investigate itself as to why they failed dismally to investigate the cases that have been assigned to them for more than two decades.”

Since the considerable progress of the Timol case, Lukhanyo Calata, the son of slain Cradock Four member Fort Calata, and the families of Matthews Mabelane and Hoosen Haffejee — anti-apartheid activists who are believed to have been murdered in police custody during apartheid — have made appeals for accountability for deaths of their loved ones.

The campaign launch will take place at the District Seix Museum on 8 February 2019 at 10am. Contact Cassiem Khan on for further information.