Babla was born on 5 February 1931 in the small town of Belfast in the then eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga). Likemany young children of that time he was compelled to leave home in order to gain a basic education.
Babla was a well-known figure in TIC and TIYC circles. During the 1950s, he was a member of the Picasso Club, along with Ahmed Kathrada, Mosie Moolla, Abdulhay Jassat and Farid Adam, which spent many nights painting political slogans and putting up posters. He also participated in the major campaigns of the day such as the Defiance Campaign.
Although he worked as a legal clerk, he often presented himself as a qualified lawyer when his comrades were in trouble with the police. He was able to quickly trace the whereabouts of detainees, arrange legal assistance and arrange for essential provisions.
He was known to have assisted in smuggling a number of people out of the country. He assisted his close friends Abdulhay and Mosie in successfully leaving the country despite a massive manhunt for the two escaped detainees.
Babla was detained on the night of his engagement to Rookie Adam in 1961. In February 1964 he was served with a banning order. On 6 July 1964 Babla, along with Ahmed Essop “Quarter” Khota, was arrested and taken to Marshall Square. His wife, Rookie who he married on 1 July 1962, recalls that the last time she saw him he had a bandage on his head. When she tried to inquire as to what happened the visit was cut short.
It is widely believed that on 9 September 1964 he was severely tortured, killed and thrown out of the seventh floor window. (a height of 20m) of Gray’s Building, the Special Branch headquarters in Johannesburg. He was the fourth person to die in police custody. The inquest found that the cause of death was unknown, but to this day the suspicion lingers that he was murdered. He was 32 years old.
The most emotive and heartfelt tribute to Babla was written by his close friend Ahmed Kathrada:
Suliman Saloojee, my dearest friend Babla, was dead, killed by the police. This most gentle of men, this inveterate prankster, my comrade and source of strength, had been picked up under the ninety-day detention law, brutally interrogated and tortured to death – by the sadistic Rooi Rus Swanepoel – then flung from a window on the seventh floor of Gray’s Building, Johannesburg headquarters of the security police, on Wednesday 9 September 1964.
Not surprisingly, the so-called inquest accepted the police version that Babla had committed suicide by jumping to his death. I have never doubted, however, that he died under interrogation, and that his body was then thrown out of the window… The magistrate found that ‘nothing in the evidence suggested that Saloojee had been assaulted or that methods of interrogating him were in any way irregular. He found that no one was to blame for his death. (Kathrada 2004: 207)
When comrades and friends of Suliman “Babla” Saloojee remember him, they usually reminisce about his humour, daring and cheeky insouciance towards the apartheid authorities; and their voices strain with a longing and sadness for a dearly missed comrade.
President Zuma posthumously awarded the National Order of Luthuli to Babla’s wife, Aunty Rookaya Saloojee on the 28th April 2016.
Summary: Suliman “Babla” Saloojee died at Marshall Square Police Station on 9th September 1964. He was in police custody for 65 days and the official / alleged cause of death was suicide, jumping from the 7th floor.