Once Upon A Loss:
The Life And Times Of Imam Abdallah Haron (1924 – 1969)
For the Yemen Times
The language of race and of
racial classification in South Africa has been constructed in order to create
difference, and in order to formally define that difference. It used to be a
language which attempted to deliver a sense of precision and confidence, in
order to create difference; to define who was who in the teeming world of the
townships and the more comfortable white suburbs. It was a language that built
value-laden notions of the inherent abilities and capacities of “groups” (rather
than individuals or common-interest communicates), into the ways in which South
Africans thought about one another. In the “new South Africa” the promise is
that these classifications will take on no more than a cultural meaning, and
that discrimination on the basis of ethnic group and skin color will not longer
be the foundation of government policy.
The process of transition from the “old” South Africa has seen many thousands of
people, most of them black, die and thousands more injured. South Africa is made
up of several societies co-existing in parallel. The fact that statutorily the
majority of population has not had economic or political access to power is a
matter of anguish for some, regret for rather more, but unconcern for most. For
most black South Africans on the other hand, the problem had been simply trying
to exist, to survive in a world that denied them equality of access to
education, adequate housing, health care and employment. For some, the political
process of achieving legal equality, has involved a life of constant struggle,
risking imprisonment and, as we shall see, even worse. For South Africa the
problems are especially great because it has a long history of oppressing its
majority population, no tradition of free and open debate, and many destructive
myths to confront and overcome. Such forces – economic, cultural, social, and
political forged and shaped the country on the southernmost tip of Africa. What
does the future hold for South Africa? The answer lies in the past as much as in
Many societies have witnessed individuals who emerged to take up the struggle
against the injustices practiced by their respective governments. A number of
them stood firm facing extreme circumstances with the hope that the social
conditions would eventually improve, and that justice would ultimately prevail.
Some during their life-time and others after their death, thus became the model
for their own societies as well as for others. And all of them shared common
charismatic qualities, qualities which reflected a deep sense of commitment to
Muslim communities, the world over, have been lead by a number of individuals
who have sacrificed their lives and have been remembered for their invaluable
contribution. During the late 17th century, the name of Shaykh Yusuf al-Khalwati
(d.1699) comes to mind. He valiantly fought the Dutch colonialists in the Melayu
before being banished to the Cape of Good Hope. Even though Shaykh Yusuf was not
an indigenous South African, the contemporary South African Muslims were able to
identify with the sacrifices. During the later part of this century, the Muslims
have been able to witness another person who has also become a mythical and
historical figure, namely Imam Abdallah Haron. He was a third generation South
African Muslim, who has been affectionately remembered by the large majority of
South Africans because of his deep involvement with uplifting the oppressed in
South Africa. In order to bring about an effective change in South Africa, he
was involved with liberation movements and had to make many personal sacrifices.
Once upon a loss
They placed him in a prison cell. This man who had a dream. That every man
should be father to his brother’s son. And love should not be tempered by the
color of their skin.
Was he patriot or terrorist?
His concern for children not his own. Made of him the keeper of his brother. And
a widowed mother found in him courage. And a women wronged, compassion.
Was he patriot or terrorist?
In the prison cell they place him. His guilt his plea for justice.
That would not be tyranny for most.
For his dream, he died.
What was he, patriot or terrorist?
Imam Abdalla Haron (1924-1969) was born in Newlands, in the southern suburbs of
the greater Cape Town region, South Africa, as the youngest of five children to
a Yemeni father and into a family of religious scholars. During his studies he
stayed for two years in Mecca and was given thorough grounding in various
aspects of the Islamic sciences by the famous Shaykh AbduRahman alAlawi alMaliki
(1966). On another occasion he also met the Saudi King Faisal. He continued his
studies under two well known Cape Town Shaykhs in South Africa. He was appointed
the editor of the Muslim News (1960- until his death) in Cape Town and used
every opportunity to make the paper as representative as possible, covering
cultural, religious, and political issues. For example he saw fasting as an
important institution of self-spiritual uplift. He became a religious leader in
1955, of an initially small but growing Cape Town Muslim community, who formed
an integral part of South Africa’s oppressed society. He dedicated himself to
the attainment of justice, freedom and unity, and to always speaking and
practicing the truth.
South Africa was a racially segregated community, the Imam and his congregants,
inspired by their religious beliefs, spend a great deal of their time helping
down trodden and oppressed families. The Imam gave special attention to those
families whose breadwinners were either forced to go into exile, or who had died
in the course of their struggle against the apartheid regime. Fondly referred to
as mfundisi in the African locations, and hadji in his religious community, he
was also in close contact and cooperation with Pan African Congress members
until he was detained by the apartheid security on Wednesday the 28th May 1969 -
the same day the Muslims were about to celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).
From that day, his family, friends, congregates and community never saw him
again. The Imam was held incommunicado for four months. The detention of the
Imam had an immediate effect upon his Muslim followers. It silenced them and
also created a certain degree of fear. He died in detention on Saturday the 27th
September 1969. The post-mortem revealed that the Imam’s death was caused by the
extreme torture he experienced whilst in detention.
Imam Abdallah Haron indeed lived a full life, which serves as an important
lesson to all communities in South Africa, to whom he left an unforgettable
legacy. Among South Africa’s Moslems, one name is revered as that of Nelson
Mandela, in their fight for freedom, justice, dignity, tolerance, and racial
reconciliation: Abdallah Haron.
South Africa: The Place in a Nutshell
South Africa is a large, scenically and humanly diverse country at the foot of
the South African continent home to 4.5 million people. It extends from the
Tropic of Capricorn to Cape Agulhas at 35 deg S and lies in the southern
temperate zone, mostly on plateaus above 1.200m. The coastline covers 2.954 km
between the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. The shore is lined by sandy beaches, is
fringed by forests in the East, and a desert in the West. The sub-continent has
a necklace of rocky islets which drop to the edges of the Antarctica. The
nine-province nation has an area of 1.219,090 sq km, larger than Germany, France
and Italy combined. South Africa may be divided broadly into two main regions, a
huge inland plateau, fringed by a narrow coastal plain on three sides.
Sunshine and storm:
Though the land is rich in grassland, savanna and forest, the greater portion is
dry, semi-desert. Average rainfall is 464 mm – little more than half the worlds
average. Most rivers are bone dry most of the time, for only 10% of rainfall
reaches the rivers, much of it lost in evaporation.
South Africa is the worlds biggest producer of gold, platinum, chromium,
vanadium, manganese and alumino-silicates. It also produces nearly 40% of the
world’s chrome and vermiculite.
South Africa is home to a rich variety of wildlife, and a rich heritage lies in
its variety of life. It is home to mammals and wild game. Varieties range from
lion and leopard to hyrax and pangolin. There are more than 100 varieties of
snake and 5,000 species of spider. Its bird life is a growing attraction. It
flora is one of the richest on earth.
The people: A rainbow of races
The variety of races and cultures matches the richness of other forms of life in
South Africa. There are 11 official languages.
South Africa has three capitals, Pretoria is the administrative, Cape Town the
legislative, and Bloemfountein, the judicial. Parliament sits in Cape Town.
Nelson Mandela, the world’s most famous political prisoner, was released after
27 years of prison to become South Africa’s first democratically elected
president in 1994. He is universally revered and credited for his remarkable
contribution for tolerance and racial reconciliation. He has since continued to
promote the theme of the African Renaissance, and continued to emphasize that
all race groups living in South African qualify as South Africans.
South Africa is the largest, most diverse and most sophisticated economy in
Africa, with a GNP three times that of Nigeria or Egypt. Once heavily dependent
on gold and the extractive industries, its is now much more broadly based, with
manufacturing being the largest sector. South Africa exports to industrialized
countries are still heavily reliant on primary and intermediate commodities,
such as gold, precious metals, base metals and minerals, while the exports to
the rest of Africa are predominantly in manufacturing goods (20% of its total
exports). Leading imports are machinery, petroleum, chemicals, and transport
Yemen and South Africa
Yemen and South Africa meet at the Indian Ocean regional group for economic
cooperation, of which both are founding members. South Africa is an important
trading partner to Yemen and an important future investor in the fields such
mineral exploration, transport and logistics. Yemenia, the national airline,
flies twice weekly to Johannesburg.
Allie Aista, 1994, Remembrance of a Martyr, Imam Abdullah Haron, Cape Town, SA
Desai, Barney, and Cardiff Marney (1978-1991) The Killing of the Imam, London,
Haron Muhammed, 1986, Imam Abdullah Haron, Life, Ideas, and Impact, University
of Cape Town, SA.
Joan Wardrop, The New South Africa, Indian Ocean Centre for Peace Studies,
Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Monograph no. 4, Australia
Nadine Gordimer, author of many novels, and short stories was awarded the Nobel
Price for literature in 1971.Among her better known novels are A World of
Alan, Paton, a teacher and author of powerful and tragic novel Cry the Beloved
Country drew the world attention to the clash of race and color in South Africa.
My profound gratitude to Professor Muhammed Haron from Department of Theology &
Religious Studies at University of Botswana in Gaborone and Centre for
Contemporary Islam, at University of Cape Town in South Africa for forwarding
articles, writings, essays and photographs about the life and work of his father
Imam Abdallah Haron.
Yemen Times extends warmest greetings to Yemeni community in Cape Town in South