Two years ago this week, the Thulsie twins, two Muslim reverts known as Brandon and Tony-Lee (Salahudin and Yakeen) Thulsie, were arrested on multiple charges of terrorism in South Africa. They have been detained without trial for two years. Here, their sister Salomi McKuur speaks about the effect this has had on her family, their fears and hopes.
At seven o’clock on Saturday morning, the 9 July 2016, I had still not received a ‘Good Morning’ message from my mum. I thought she may be sleeping in because she was expecting me at 8.30, but by 8 there was still no word.
I decided to call her to make sure she would be ready for me, but when I rang her the phone was off. I thought it was weird, totally unlike my mom, so I called on my brother Salahudin’s phone. He lives with her. But his phone was also off.
I suddenly got this uneasy feeling that something was not right. So I got into my car, still believing that there was a reasonable explanation for their silence.
When I turned into the road where mum lives, I saw yellow police tape. The road was cordoned off. There were police vehicles in front of her house, and a van that looked like a mortuary van.
My entire body went numb. Can you imagine what this felt like? I jumped out of my car, then I had to get back in as I had forgot to put the handbrake on in my panic and it was rolling backwards. I pulled up the brake, left the door open and started running to my mum’s house.
But my legs could not carry me. I was shaking so much I fell to the ground. I started screaming and somehow got the strength to get up and run towards the house.
“Stop!” Armed men screamed at me, pointing their guns.
“Please!” I said, “My mum lives there.” South Africa has a high crime rate. My mum lives in a poor area, where there are frequent break-ins and murders. I was thinking the worst, like any daughter would in this position.
After begging and pleading with the police, they eventually let me through.
As I approached her house, I saw my mum’s door had been broken down. I thought someone had broken in! Later, I was told that the police had broken down the door, and also broken the down the door of another house on our street.
“Where is my mother and brother?!” I screamed. Salahudin lived with my mom and he was supporting her financially with a job he had just secured, while my other brother Yakeen had just got married and was living in a cottage on someone else’s property not far away.
It was just then that I saw mum sitting on the couch in tears. The police took my phone and they let me go to her. The house had been turned upside down – the furniture was messed up and the cupboards emptied. I asked her: “What is going on?”
But nobody was talking to me. My mom was just crying, and the police were everywhere, searching her home.
“Where is Salahudin?”
In a state, her face pale, her entire body shaking, my mum tried to comfort me.
“They took him, she said. “I had to beg them to give him a jacket.” She is crying, shaking.
My mother has a nervous condition and she is medicated for it. “Can I give her her meds?” I asked. But nobody answered me.
“Can I give her her meds?!” I screamed.
A police officer finally takes notice. “Yes, you can!”
“What is going on?” I asked.
An officer gave me a piece of paper and said forcefully: “Read!” But I couldn’t really digest what it said.
This all happened two years ago, but it feels like it is still happening today. Later we recounted things. My mum and brother had been woken up to a very big bang, the doors had been kicked down, and they had been held taken from their beds and held to the ground at gunpoint. They thought they were being robbed.
Police spoke to each other, shouting in a language my mum couldn’t understand. They mocked her, telling her to take down her Quran and read it. When she refused, because it was not appropriate, they laughed at her.
When she needed to use the toilet, they followed her inside and stood there, like she was a criminal.
A few kilometers away, my other brother Yakeen and his wife’s small cottage was also being raided in a similar way. Police broke down the door of his landlord’s house in front and pointed their weapons at children.
This was the worst day of our lives and we will never forget it for as long as we live.
Now, two years later and after numerous court appearances, numerous requests by our lawyers for the state to produce evidence to justify the continued detention-without-trial of my brothers on various serious allegations of terrorism, we feel let down by our justice system.
We are heartbroken that our brothers have so far not been treated fairly. Prison conditions are poor, though not as bad as in other countries. They have requested and received Qurans. But we are frustrated that it is okay for whoever is in charge to allow this to go on for two years with no conclusion.
We are afraid that foreign security agencies are being consulted to produce whatever evidence has been gathered, procured from here and there over two years, while my brothers are sitting in jail away from their families who are the best people to help them.
Most of all, we have lost the mother we knew.
Mum is here physically but she is not the same. She has constant pain in her eyes. She lives for a Friday, when she is able to see her boys. Come rain or shine, she makes sure she packs them the food she can afford, and she attends every prison visit.
She’s gone to see them when she was so sick, I wanted to take her to the hospital. But she insisted. Sometimes she must go alone carrying heavy bags of food.
Because Salahudin supported her she has lost her home and is now living with me. I see her missing her independence. I see her missing her home. She’s been in and out of doctor’s rooms and the diagnosis stays the same: ‘stress’. She’s had breakdowns, even in public. This breaks my heart.
But for all the pain, this has brought us all closer too. Whenever we get to speak to my brothers we always end off with ‘I love you’. This is something we hardly did before.
Their faith is so strong now, and they have taught me to trust Allah’s decree.
We make every effort to go to every court appearance, this being the only time we get to spend time with them without any barriers between us. Even though they are brought to the court room in shackles, we can hold their hands, touch them and they always kiss my mother’s hand.
It’s the only place Yaqeen can give his wife Aadila a kiss on her hand. Theirs is a love story; he writes letters to her, even though they were only married for two short months and living together for two weeks when it all happened.
When she gets the rare chance to visit him in prison, they just sit there, looking at each other with the bars between them. I admire the strength of their love and their patience to one day be reunited.
Before this I didn’t know anything really about what is going on in the world. Now I am more aware. But I still hope that the trial will be fair, and they are given a chance to have due process without any interference or influence from other countries.
We are hoping beyond hope that they could just come home, even if they are put under house arrest.
But I cannot see my mum lasting much longer before reaching a breaking point. My brothers are also not the same. They have been forced to learn to survive in difficult conditions.
I would like to say to South Africa, and especially the media, that everyone deserves a fair trial. This is our constitutional right. But so far, this endless procedure and imprisonment mean my brothers rights have been violated.
Why for anyone else would this treatment not be okay, but for them it is okay?
Is it because they are Muslim? Is it because this makes it okay for other countries to influence our country, our justice system?
My brothers are South African. They deserve to be treated as innocent until proven guilty, yet they have already been painted as “terrorists” before any strong evidence has been produced. This is painful – I remember even a lawyer walking past us at court talking to someone, saying that the “terrorists” were being tried – a lawyer!
To the rest of the world, especially those experiencing Islamophobia first hand: I ask that Allah makes it easy for you and that He soon puts an end to this.
To the countries that can make a difference, please wake up! What if these were your brothers, sisters or mothers going through this?
We would also like to thank everyone who has assisted our family. We’ve met many wonderful people and seen the true beauty of humanity and how hard times bring people together. Thank you to the Thulsie Support Group from our local community.
We do not know where we would be if it were not for CAGE Africa and the Muslim Lawyers Association. You are sent from Allah. We will never be able to repay you, but you will always be in our family’s prayers.
Please pray for us.
– Salomi McKuur, July 2018
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)