Claremont Main Road Mosque pulled out all the stops to complete the recitation of the Qur’an and host a prayer meeting to celebrate the 93rd birthday of Galiema Haron, wife of anti-apartheid activitist Imam Abdullah Haron, who died in police custody 50 years ago.
Born and raised not far from the mosque, her youngest daughter Fatiema Haron Masoet, was the guest speaker at the religious gathering of women on Sunday August 4.
Ms Haron, who now lives in Crawford with her daughter, was born on August 3 1926. She is frail and in need of full-time care.
Ms Haron Masoet paid tribute to her mother, whom she called a silent heroine.
Ms Haron was the eldest daughter of respected carpenter Allie Sadan and well-known baker Rugaya Osborne, whose family featured prominently in the make-up and development of Claremont.
“Being the eldest daughter, Galiema generally displayed tacit, firm but confident leadership,” said Ms Haron Masoet.
In telling her mother’s life story Ms Haron Masoet said she was a private person, who was her husband’s financier and confidante. They met at Talfalah Primary School, then located in Draper Street, Claremont.
The couple married on March 15 1950 and had three children: Shamela Shamis, 68, Professor Muhammad Haron, 63, and Ms Haron Masoet, 55. Today there are 10 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.
Under the Group Areas Act of 1950 the Haron family was forcibly removed from Claremont and they set up home in Repulse Road, across from the City Park Sports Complex, for the imam and his family to enjoy rugby and cricket matches.
Ms Haron Masoet recalled the day of her father’s arrest.
“I remember the day of my father’s arrest. It was a very cold winter’s day, May 28 of 1969, 12th of Rabi’ ul Awwal, when all the Muslims would be gathering at the masjied to celebrate moulood an Nabi (birthday of the Prophet),” she said.
The imam was in high spirits as he prepared for the evening’s celebrations at Stegman Road Masjied, where he led the congregation.
“I was six years old, a few decades have passed since the tragic arrest of my father. There was a loud knock on the door. Spyker van Wyk and his colleague came as an unwelcome intrusion into our home,” she said.
Spyker van Wyk was an officer of the apartheid police’s Special Branch, who took the imam to the then Caledon police station, now known as the Cape Town Central police station.
“My father tried as best not to show alarm towards my mom. As I was standing next to my mother, I could see her face. Something was terribly wrong. I remember her asking my father ‘what is happening?’ All my father said to my mom in Afrikaans were: ‘Liema moet nie bekommerd wees nie. Alles sal reg kom. I’ll see you later Liema, don’t worry,” recalled Ms Haron Masoet.
He told his wife to get his robes ready for the evening.
“And as my mother watched the police car disappear down the road, she looked down at me with a heavy-filled heart and with worry, anguish and despair. My mother who had not the slightest connection with anti-apartheid politics had come to know Spyker van Wyk, the notorious killer of the Special Branch who terrorised anyone who would come up against him,” she said.
Ms Haron Masoet said her mother looked at her with a deep sadness, which overwhelmed her.
Hours later Spyker van Wyk returned with the imam only to announce that he would be in solitary confinement.
The imam picked up his 13-year-old son Muhammad and said: “You are the man of the house. You have to look after your mother and your sister”. By then his eldest daughter had been in England for almost a year.
“My father picked me up and looked at my bewildered face and kissed me, while my mother burst out crying. That is the last sight of my father, her husband and the religious leader, whom we saw alive,” said Ms Haron Masoet.
The Haron family have added their voices to those of the families of apartheid victims who have called for the reopening of 300 cases that were referred to the National Prosecuting Authority by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for further investigation 20 years ago.
That day in May marked the beginning of the 123 days of the imam’s incarceration, abuse, torture and terror until his death on September 27.
Spyker van Wyk and his colleague only known as Crispy came to the Haron house in Repulse Road and told Ms Haron the imam had had a heart attack.
“My mother was stunned and shocked. She told them the body has to come home and they informed her there will be a post-mortem on the corpse before the family can prepare for the burial. When they left my mother collapsed with utter disbelief,” Ms Haron Masoet said.
Ms Haron remained steadfast in her belief that God would provide for and protect her family.
The imam did not have a will and according to the law at the time and still today, Muslim marriages are not recognised and his children were illegitimate.
Ms Haron, her mother and children were forcibly removed from their home. They moved in with another family in a bedroom.
The widow learned to drive at age 43, and a white Mini was her first car. She then went to work at a personal dry cleaners in Claremont until age 78.
Ms Haron saved every penny and managed to fund the construction of her family home in Nico Avenue, Crawford.
Being strong-willed, she would not allow anyone else to buy the bricks, cement or sand.
“She had a book, which I still have, when she paid R1 for a bag of sand, 10c for a brick. She was very good at keeping her numbers. Moenie jou geld mos nie. Every penny counts, is what she would tell us,” said Ms Haron Masoet.
She had student boarders because Shamela was studying radiography in England at the time.
Ms Haron’s eldest daughter never returned home after her father’s death because her safety was in jeopardy. The authorities had thought she had knowledge of her father’s anti-apartheid dealings. Ms Shamis still lives in England.
Ms Haron received financial assistance from the Stegman Road Masjied community, Hospital Welfare Muslim Eduation Movement and the Arabic Studies Circle to help with her son’s undergraduate studies at Westville University in Durban. Professor Haron studied at the universities of Durban-Westville, Cape Town, and South Africa, Vrije Universiteit te Amsterdam and Rhodes University.
Ms Haron Masoet said decades ago she looked into her mother’s eyes and was dependent on her, while her world was crashing in on her. “She had to keep going. She had the inner strength to continue, regardless of what came.
“Today she looks up into my eyes and she relies on me,” she said.
Ms Haron Masoet said the years of trauma and sacrifice had taken their toll on her mother’s body and psyche. “In the eyes of her children she remains strong,” she said.
She said her mother and all of the unsung heroines, who suffered at the hands of the apartheid regime, should be honoured, recorded and respected. “We celebrate this month, Women’s Month, the extraordinary achievements of women.”
Ms Haron Masoet said the 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on August 9 1956, the women who were imprisoned and bore the brunt of hardship, violence, torture, solitary confinement and the hell they survived, should not be forgotten.
“It is a time to reflect on progress made for women, to call for change, to celebrate the act of courage and determination by extraordinary women who play a pivotal role in the history of our communities and in our country,” she said.