During a commemorative event, held by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, in honour of the 55th death anniversary of Suliman Babla Saloojee at the Bill Jardine Stadium on September 8, sentiments around the reopening of the inquest which ruled his death a suicide by the NPA were widely echoed.
Imtiaz Cajee, nephew of Ahmed Timol, the 22nd detainee to die in detention during the apartheid era, pledged that he would head an investigation and appeal the inquest which ruled Babla had committed suicide by jumping off the 7th floor of the then Special Branch Headquarters.
“I commit myself today to Aunty Rookaya that I will continue pursuing the reversal of the 1964 inquest ruling that stated that Sulaiman Saloojee committed suicide. We will succeed, even though it takes time. But, I will never give up. This is my promise to you who I now view as a mother.”
Babla was the 4th detainee to die in detention during the apartheid era, his death was ruled a suicide during an inquest in 1996. According to his wife, Rookaya Saloojee, she testified for 5 minutes, and was dismissed when she questioned the blood on Babla’s clothing at the time of his death.
Many applauded the strength and courage Rokaya portrayed following the death of her husband. Even after she had been threatened with death, then offered a house, car and money to become an informer by policeman and her husbands alleged killer, ‘Rooi Rus’ Swanepoel.
During his speech, Imtiaz Cajee sighted that the Security Police did not inform Rookaya of her husband’s death, but she was rather informed by a journalist.
“I can only imagine what Uncle Babla went through at the hands of the Security Police for over two months in detention. What was Aunty Rookaya going through in this period looking for Uncle Babla?” Cajee said.
“What perturbs me is that since 2002, apartheid-era prosecutors continue to be tasked with investigations into TRC cases. They have not been replaced and are firmly in the driving seat. Their stalling and delaying tactics have already seen the deaths of Security Branch operatives in the Aggett and Haffejee matters. How many more are to die before TRC cases are expedited?”
Cajee assured Rookaya that she was not alone, “Aunty Rookaya, you are not alone. I have been honoured to interact with families across the country as we continue to conduct our own investigations into TRC cases with very little assistance.”
Babla was said to be a revolutionary, a product of the people, the community and the struggle.
In his memoirs, Ahmed Kathrada referred to Babla as his ‘great friend’. In a tribute to Babla, Kathy said, “The so-called inquest accepted the police version that Babla committed suicide by jumping to his death. I have never doubted, however, that he died under interrogation, and his body was then thrown out of the window. The magistrate found ‘nothing in the evidence suggested Saloojee had been assaulted or that methods of interrogating him were in any way irregular’.”
The anti-apartheid activist and stalwart was allegedly brutally killed in detention by infamous security police officer, Rooi Rus Swanepoel in September 1964.
In attendance were fellow comrades, Mosie Moola, Abdulahy Jassat, Prema Naidoo and Ronnie Kastrils, Saloojees wife Rookaya Saoojee as well as Ahmed Kathrada’s widow, Barbara Hogan were also in attendance amongst others.
As many reminisced at the character Babla possessed, Ahmed Kathrada Foundation board member, Firoz Cachalia sighted the important aspects memory serves in remembering fallen heroes, such as Babla.
“We have an opportunity to think about the role of memory in the struggle. We often lose sight of the suffering of the families that endured this kind of loss. It is important to focus on the family of Babla and their suffering and pain,” Chachalia said.
Fellow comrade, Ronnie Kastrils, recalled the works of the Picasso Club, saying he spotted some of their graffiti during the club’s campaign for public libraries on the long wall of the Johannesburg Library.
Katrils said when he visited Durban following the Sharpville Massacre, he was in the company of NP Naicker, who constantly told stories about Babla.
“The stories would make you laugh. Babla had the wit and character. He was a product of the struggle, there is no way he would have jumped to his death. Thank god to the Timol family we are going to open the inquest again,”
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation board member, Prema Naidoo also remembered Salooje, saying he always cared about the wellbeing of his fellow comrades.
He remembered a time when Isu Chiba, Abdulhay Jassat, Sirish Nanabhai, Reggie Vandeyar and Idries Naidoo had been arrested and taken in for interrogation at Marshal Square Police Station.
“Nobody had success in seeing them, but Babla went to Marshal Square and insisted on seeing them. They said they were being interrogated. He sat outside Marshal Square Police Station because he knew they would come out. Abdulhay was brutally tortured, Isu Chiba was brutally tortured, they broke Reggie’s rib, Idries was shot in the shoulder and the first friendly face they saw was Babla, he was there for them.”
The Foundation and those in attendance then gathered at the Newclare Cemetery, where the anti-apartheid stalwart is buried, a short prayer was rendered before Barbara Hogan paid tribute to him. The day was concluded by a wreath laying ceremony.
Babla played a key role in the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and is said to have assisted many flee the country into exile, including his friends Abdulhay Jassat and Mosie Moolla following their escape from detention despite a massive manhunt for the duo.
Although he worked as a legal clerk, many a time when his comrades were in trouble with police he would pose as a lawyer and demand to see them. This allowed him to track the whereabouts of detainees, obtain legal assistance and arrange for essential provisions to be delivered to the detainees.