Cape Town – The inquiry into the cause of death of the late Imam Abdullah Haron has entered its second week and is set to conclude on Friday. The official Apartheid government inquest ruled the struggle activist’s death was a result of him falling down a flight of stairs. A ruling his family has rejected for years.
Gathering information for the inquiry started a few years ago with the matter only reaching the courts this year. To understand whether the cause of death ruled by the government was correct, aeronautics engineer, Thivash Moodley and his team reviewed the inquest documents and analysed the structure of the Caledon and Maitland police stations.
“We analysed the entire architecture of the building. The stair construction, the stair structure, the location of the holding cells, the location of the interrogation rooms. Fortunately, there were some people who were held in detention at the same time and they managed to fit some of the pieces together. Most of the investigation was based on the evidence of the two security police officers.”
The account of the alleged fall
According to Security Branch policemen, Major Dirk Kotze Genis and Sergeant Johannes “Spyker” van Wyk, Haron had taken an innocent tumble as they headed through a gate from an interrogation room. Genis was walking in front of him when he heard a splashing sound and turned to see Haron falling down the stairs. However, taking into account the height of Haron and the steps, it would not have been possible for him to slide down the stairs as told by the officers.
“That particular flight of stairs was approximately two metres long and 1.7 metres high. The late Imam was about 1.7 metres high himself and quite slender in built, 64 kgs. We then looked at the situation and realised that had he fallen as they mentioned, lost his footing and fell backwards, he wouldn’t have slid that much if he didn’t reach the bottom of the stairs and he was still two or three stairs from the bottom. There are about 10 stairs in total and the man is 1.7 metres. We believe he may have fallen on the same spot and if he slid, he may have slid only one or two steps.”
The injuries of Haron do not match up with a fall
According to the government inquest, it was the result of this fall that Haron suffered 27 bruises and a broken rib. Taking into consideration the new information and calculations, Moodley went ahead to determine whether such injuries could be sustained in a controlled environment or an uncontrolled fall. In both circumstances, Moodley determined that Haron could not sustain such injuries from falling.
“He could have fallen uncontrollably, where he didn’t grab onto anything or he lost his balance completely. In another situation he could have fallen in a controlled environment where he broke his fall by putting his hands down or clutching the rails. We considered both those situations. We found that given there were no injuries on his buttocks, his lower back, on his upper back, his neck, his head, his hands, it was probably very unlikely that he fell in an uncontrolled manner since he had no injuries on those parts of his bodies. If he fell in a controlled manner then we would expect no injuries.”
Genis also asked Haron if the fall had injured him and his immediate reply was no. This indicates to Moodley that if Haron did not get hurt, it is unlikely he would have sustained any markings on his body. This is contrary to the evidence which indicated Haron had “several bruises and bashes all across his body”.
“If he fell in a controlled manner, his buttocks would have hit the ground at about 3.5 m/second and that is sufficient speed to sustain some sort of injury. If he fell in an uncontrolled way, his head would have hit the stairs at about 4.5 m/second and he would have definitely sustained some sort of injury. Fortunately, he didn’t receive any injuries on those parts of his body.”
Even taking into consideration calculations involving kinetic energy, different parts of the body hitting the ground at different times and speeds, it would not fit Haron’s injuries.