Once Upon A Loss:The Life And Times Of Imam Abdallah Haron (1924 – 1969) [Archives:2004/770/Culture]

September 6 2004
Imam Abdullah Haron
Imam Abdullah Haron
Irena Knehtl
[email protected]
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 the present.
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 the sacred.
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 equipment.

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.

Further reading:
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, UK
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 Strangers.
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 Africa.