Thursday, October 19, 2017

The story of the two Sarahs – Saartjie Baartman and Saartjie van de Kaap

I HAVE been researching a book on Tuan Guru, Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Qadi ‘Abdus Salam of Tidore, one of our iconic historical figures at the Cape. What has emerged, so far, is that what we know is fragmentary, and that we have absolutely no details of his life before his exile to the Cape in 1780.

Despite this, a personality does emerge. It is evident that Tuan Guru – who described himself as ‘mazlum’ (the oppressed one) – was feisty enough to defy the Statute of India to hold the first jumu’ah (Friday prayers) in the Chiappini Street quarry, and to be a pioneer of education via the establishment of his madrasah (school) in 1793, five years before the founding of the Awwal mosque, the first in South Africa.

In searching for Tuan Guru, other characters such as Tuan Sayyid Alawi, Achmat van Bengal from Chinsura, Jan van Boughies of Long Street and Paay Schaapie – the kindly dervish with a calabash on his head – emerge from the shadows.    

Profound in this journey is just exactly how colonialism has marginalised the narrative of those not writing it. Archivally, it is often just a throwaway line, a quick derisory mention by a colonial official – or as in the instance of the Awwal masjid, a court case – that gives us the leads.

Being of their times, the accounts are also patriarchal. Women are rarely mentioned, and if they are, it’s fleetingly. The Slave lodge, a house of many horrors, became a glorified brothel and records show that not one person was ever convicted for the rape of a slave woman at the Cape.

So it is supremely ironic that I find two women – both Sarah, but called the Dutch diminutive ‘Saartjie’ – who play such a crucial, but disparate, role in our early history. Both lived at almost the same time, but their lives could not have been more different.

Saartjie van de Kaap is the daughter of Trijn van de Kaap, who married a manumitted slave, Coridon of Ceylon, a landowner. Trijn is most likely a compaction of ‘Katerina’. Despite not knowing her original name, we do know – via the archives – that after the death of her husband in 1797, Trijn owned four slaves and rented out property.

What’s noteworthy is that Trijn, and not a male family member, inherited Coridon’s landed estate. This indicates that Coridon (and Trijn) must have had knowledge of Islamic law allowing Muslim women – despite the paternalism of the era – to own property.

In her household was Ahmad van Bengal (registered as Job van Bengalen), and Tuan Guru’s most trusted associate, who had married her daughter, Saartjie. It was while the property was owned by Trijn that the Awwal mosque was established in 1798.

It is in her will of 1841 that we see her character. After Ahmad van Bengal passed on in 1843, and with the Muslim community beginning to fragment, she had the foresight – and courage – to request Imam Abdol Barrie (as opposed to one of her three sons) to be the imam at her funeral.

She appointed an independent advocate as the executor of her will, instead of her sons Mochamat, Hamiem and Saddik, who were – to her great hurt – planning the establishment of the Nurul Islam mosque.

In addition, her will stated that the property at 28 Dorp Street be used as a mosque by her descendants for as long as Islam remained at the Colony, and that conditional to this was that the property of the mosque never be sold, or mortgaged.

Indeed, not only was the first mosque in South Africa initially owned by a woman, Trijn van de Kaap, but also the first waqf in South Africa was decreed by her daughter, Saartjie van de Kaap.

From the triumphs of Saartjie van de Kaap we go to the trials of Saartjie Baartman, the most tragic symbol of the colonial era, and a victim of the grossest scientific racism in modern times. Born in the Gamtoos River area, and from the Gonaquasub clan, she allegedly ‘signed’ a contract with an English ship surgeon, William Dunlop, to go to England.  

Baartman’s large buttocks and enlarged pudenda made her the object of fascination by the colonial Europeans, who presumed that they were racially superior and that ‘negroid’ peoples were primitive and over-sexed like animals.

She was paraded in a cage like a circus animal, her vital parts covered by a cloth. Sadly, after her death in 1815 – due to a combination of alcoholism, syphilis, possibly pneumonia or smallpox and even heartbreak – two Khoi-San would be taken to Germany in the same manner in 1845, with two more being shown as ‘Bosjemans’ in a travelling circus in 1846.

Baartman attracted the attention of George Cuvier, a naturalist, who asked if she could be studied as a science specimen, when she was sold in France to an animal trainer. From March 1815 until her untimely death, Saartjie Baartman was prodded and studied by French anatomists, zoologists and physiologists.

Cuvier concluded that the young Gonaquasub woman was a link between apes and humans. Interestingly, Cuvier observes that Saartjie Baartman was actually an intelligent woman, with an excellent memory – especially faces. She spoke Khoi, Dutch, passable English and a smattering of French, and had a lively personality.

Cuvier even mentions that her shoulders and back were ‘graceful’, that her arms were ‘slender’, and that her hands and feet were ‘charming’ and ‘pretty’, yet – sadly – he is unable to break from the acculturated shackles of his racism, or even comprehend his grotesque contradictions. 

In every way, I would suggest that Saartjie Baartman and Saartjie van de Kaap are kindred sisters, spirits of our unrecognised history – one an icon, one a pioneer. It is said that no one chooses their destiny, but in the contrasts – and in the victories and in the supreme tests of their lives as women – we find meaning in what they represent that resonates even in today’s South Africa, from the wretched to the sublime.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The inquest of Ahmed Timol's death in detention, seeking the final truth

THE re-opening of the inquest into the causes of Ahmed Timol’s death in detention, 45 years after the fact, is most certainly a long-awaited constitutional triumph. However, with it comes tremendous pain, and the nightmares of an era when security policemen were licensed killers.

For me, it is a distressing story to write – as like so many – these shadowy men were once an integral, and unpleasant, part of my life. I was one of the lucky ones, though, escaping a certain Lieutenant Frans Mostert. He’d arrived at Lavender Hill High School, where I taught then, early one November morning in 1985.

Accompanied by three cars, a mustard coloured Colt Gallant, a box Toyota Corolla and a red vehicle (whose make I can’t recall), Mostert’s story to the principal that he just wanted to ask me “a few questions” was not convincing. I was warned and managed to avoid the reception committee.

This happened after the Security Police had been tailing us for some time, even detaining one of our comrades and beating him up at Maitland Police station. His “crime”? He couldn’t name a “blonde lady” in the group. In those days I had long hair and the “blond lady” was actually me. I was only identified later, and as an extremely minor activist, it seemed as if my time had come.    

I had a narrow escape from Mostert, but I still had to go underground. In those days you were guilty by association, and I was privy to the location of some buried AK47s that would not only have incriminated me, but others too.

Mostert had somehow got wind of this, and he’d become like a rabid dog. My fear of being detained, like everyone else, was real. By 1985 nearly 60 people had died in detention and we knew what the torturers were doing – especially at Culemborg, a disused shunting yard in Cape Town’s CBD.

Last week, mindful of the Timol inquest and the invitation to do a story, I put up a post on Facebook and re-visited the TRC files. After a few harrowing hours of going through testimonies, I grew angry. Very angry. I’d been reminded, again, of how few of these demented men had pitched up at the TRC.

The Facebook string was even more illuminating. We’ve really forgotten how many people were touched by the State of Emergency. The list of security Branch psychopaths increased with every post. This struggle narrative, the one of the rank-and-file, is one that must be told. 

And even for those high-profile victims – like Imam Abdullah Haron, Suliman Salojee, Steve Biko, Dr Hoosen Haffajee, Dr Neil Aggett and Ahmed Timol – there are also stories that still need to be told.  

So when Judge Billy Mothle of the Gauteng High Court ordered that all the surviving policemen (three out of 23) who were involved in the detention of activists Salim Essop and Ahmed Timol, be subpoenaed to testify, I cheered.

For John Vorster Square is not only responsible for the death of Timol, but six other activists too: Wellington Tshazibane, Mathews Mabelane, Samuel Malinga, Dr Neil Aggett, Ernest Dipale and Clayton Sithole.

The inquest – this time a proper one in response to findings and representations to the NPA by the Timol family – sits again later this month to further investigate claims that the police lied to mask the truth of Timol’s brutal killing in 1971.

Magistrate JL De Villiers, who sat on the enquiry, has been accused of ignoring key forensic findings in exonerating the police – who bizarrely claimed Timol, a teacher and member of the SA Communist Party, had jumped out a 10th story window.

It will be interesting to hear what these men have to say, almost half a century later, about the killing of Timol and the torture of Essop and so many others in a vault – called Die Waarkamer (the Truth Room) – in Room 1013.

“I will authorise the issue of subpoenas to all the police who were involved in the arrest and interrogation and detention of Mr Essop and Mr Timol. If they are still alive, I am authorising, through the NPA, to issue subpoenas,” said Judge Mothle, instructing the police commissioner to help the court.

Salim Essop, who was detained together with Timol and who is now an elderly figure, testified how 15 officers had taken shifts, beating him, pulling out his hair, electrocuting him, suffocating him and urinating on him. They did this to him for four days, whilst not allowing him to sit or rest. He was hospitalised after slipping into a coma.

He recalled having seen a hooded person being escorted by two policemen whom he assumed to be Timol, because of his clothes. Timol, he said, was in a terrible state, unable to walk unaided. Essop testified that due to their torture, no-one would have had the energy to jump out of a window.

Dr Dilshad Jhetam – who was detained because she knew Timol – was shocked, slapped, deprived of sleep and forced to urinate in her clothes. She recalled hearing Timol screaming in a nearby room, his screaming suddenly stopping on the third day of her interrogation. She said a female security branch officer had later told her “the Indian is dead”.

Almost five decades later, those words “the Indian is dead” are as spine-chilling as the dark day they were uttered. They help to remind us that we come from a sombre past – 300 years of colonialism and 46 years of apartheid – years hallmarked by structural violence and institutionalised racism. These are the ghosts that we have to excorcise. And as Nelson Mandela said on his release from prison: forgive, yes, but forget not. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Moon sighting Cape Town

The sun sets on Ramadan 2017, Sea Point, Cape Town.

IN SPITE of cold weather, thousands gathered at Three Anchor Bay, Sea Point, 
to look for the new crescent marking the end of Ramadan 2017. With the moon 
13. 5 hrs old and with a lag of 42 minutes for sighting, the crescent was not
seen. For the moon to be seen it has to be at least 16 hrs old with a sighting 
time of at least 45 minutes after sunset.

The moon was only visible in parts of western US and South America, in 
spite of countries like Nigeria, Australia and Saudi Arabia voting to celebrate
 'Eid ul-Fitr, the festival day marking end of the Holy Month. In the Qur'an 
it states that Muslims should begin the month with the sighting of the crescent, 
and conclude it with the sighting of the crescent.

The Crescent Observers Society, which has been sighting the moon in Cape 
Town for over 60 years, is the authoritative South African body for crescent 
observation. Qualified moon-sighters - or "maankykers" - also go to sight the 
moon in other parts of South Africa and report to the Hakim, Shaikh Seraj
Hendricks, in Cape Town before a decision is made for the whole country.

The moon-sighting for the end of Ramadan in Cape Town - unique because 
of the crowds it attracts - is a major media event, covered by radio, television 
and print internationally. Moon-sighting to determine the lunar Islamic 
calendar  is a practice dating back to over 360 years in Cape Town as Muslim 
slaves and political exiles were sent to the tip of Africa by the Dutch East India 
Company in the 17th century. It is said that the colonialists and the apartheid 
authorities could ban or restrict a host of practices, but not looking at the sky.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The big storm, Cape Town 7 June

Sea Point promenade, 3 pm, 7 June.
AFTER drought conditions for most of the summer and an unusually warm autumn, a massive storm from rumbled in from the Atlantic, slamming into the Western Cape - and Cape Town - with rare force. Gusts of over 100 kmh accompanied by torrential rain, gave relief but the cold added to the misery of those in informal settlements and on the streets. Further east, fires raged in places like Knysna. All signs of global warming, the general unpredictability of weather and other climatic factors. However, with the storm came 12 metre seas and chaos as a Spring tide caused a huge surge and spectacular imagery in places such as Sea Point.

A lone seagull tries not to fly backwards to Milnerton as Thermompalye maxes at 15 foot.

The boiler at Thermopalye is at the bottom of  that wave.

The tide starts to surge. 

Foam biking.

Beach Road gets slammed. It was later closed.

The foam runners.

The promenade, usually peaceful, gets violent.

Hard-core photographer in the eye of the storm.

Madiba's glasses get a short-sighted view of the storm.

The swell in Table Bay towards Milnerton. Note the size of the swells compared to the containers.

Slam dunk Sea Point.

Photos Copyright Shafiq Morton

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ramadan terror is not in our name

BAGHDAD, Manchester, Kabul and London. Who knows who will be next? The headlines reflect unspeakable acts of terror against innocent civilians, some in the name of a now fragmented “Caliphate”, a so-called “Islamic state” in Syria and Iraq being smashed to pieces – militarily at least.

And as the IS group fragments, and its foreign fighters die on the battlefield – or slink back like whipped dogs to their home countries – the “War on Terror” industry stands to make trillions out of security, and inconveniencing airline passengers – especially Muslims who will be extensively profiled.

And as former IS foot-soldiers and acolytes commit atrocities in the capitals of the world in contradiction of every tenet of Islam, Muslims bear the brunt. Let’s be clear. The IS group does not represent Islam. To kill an innocent person in any faith is major breach of that faith. Islam is no different. Muslims do not condone the killing of innocent civilians.

And even if these terror acts may prove to be false flag operations in a world of burgeoning fake news, our response should be exactly the same. Bombing and killing in public places, burning people alive, intimidatory limb-chopping, enslavement, marital bondage and the execution of dissenting Muslims, has no legal precedent in Sacred Law.

Shari’ah – it’s lexical meaning is a watering hole – has been designed, say scholars, not just for the benefit of Muslims, but for all mankind.

The IS group is an apocalyptic, end-time cult – shamefully propped up at certain stages by certain Gulf countries, the US and even Turkey – for a mixed cocktail of political agendas in a destructive regional conflict. Sadly, the ugliest dimensions of this conflict have spilled over into the west, the west whom the IS group holds responsible for all the ills of our era.

Obviously, there are serious questions arising in the Muslim world such as a massive youth bulge, chronic unemployment, unending dictatorships, occupation, foreign meddling, a lack of economic growth, drone strikes and endemic corruption.

To this effect the IS group magazine, Dabiq, has called on “Muslims” to rise up with acts of terror against host governments outside of IS territory, saying that failure to do this – or to emigrate to the mythical “Islamic state” – would render one an unbeliever (whose blood would be halal).

But this is a naïve, uninformed and inappropriate response. Did the Prophet (s) ever say that two wrongs would make a right? Or that as believer, the means would ever justify the end? Or, that death was the very ethos of faith?

Indeed, the IS group has proved – that by supporting terror as a means to its end – it has nothing to do with Islam, or any genuine faith. The IS group might have been founded as a so-called “Sunni vanguard” against the lack of national reconciliation by former Iraqi leader, Nuri al-Maliki. But the IS group, Islamic? Never.

The IS group, initially a political response to a regional political problem caused largely by the Bush family, swept up recruits through a mixture of genuine social grievance, street-savvy social media and the emotionalism of manufactured religiosity.

In the hands of Hajji Bakr, the former Saddam Hussein Republican guard officer and the original engineer of IS, the group’s agenda mutated into an ad-hoc, pseudo-Islamic notion of neo-colonialism to gain revenge against political Shi’ism.

What has set the IS group apart from the neo-Wahhabi extremists that preceded it, such as Al-Qaeda, was the fact that for a while, it controlled large swathes of territory. It amassed billions of dollars by looting national treasures, violating historical sites, robbing banks and selling pirated oil to neighbouring countries.

As the Iraqi and other allied forces sweep up former IS held towns and cities, there is evidence that the IS group did run a “state” – of sorts – and that at certain levels it did reach limited levels of functionality. But that is all we can say. For how much of a state is a failed state?

The political vacuums of Syria, Iraq – and even Yemen – may not be our fault. However, the sad truth is that as a world community, rapidly becoming over-run by Trumpism and political dishonesty, nobody actually cares. It means that we as Muslims have to stand up and be counted amongst those who will not tolerate terror, lies and slander in our name.

In the same way that the odious trolls of Islamophobia such as Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, Ayan Hirsi, Sheila Musaji, Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes and other racist shills consistently trot out their phobic nonsense online and on Fox, we have to be there as well – challenging with adab, good argument and common sense.

This means that we will have to repeat, over and over – and over again – that we do not support suicide bombings, crude jihadism, misogyny, discrimination against other faiths and injustice. We have to remind the world – and ourselves – that the IS group represents utopian madness; that what it does and says are all perversions, not only in our name, but in everybody’s name too.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Historic prayers at Cape Town castle

The Cape Town Castle, built by the Dutch East India Company is surrounded by a moat fed by Table Mountain streams.
Photos Shafiq Morton

NOT all is bad in post-apartheid South Africa, reeling from the shady and reckless rule of a profligate President Jacob Zuma who has sold off the country to the Guptas, a group of Indian-born businessmen from Uttar Pradesh.

Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta arrived in South Africa from Saharanour, India, sent by Shiv Kumar, their businessman father, to explore business opportunities in the country – something which they have done to the point of state capture and ongoing controversy.

The corrupt shenanigans of the power elites aside, Cape Town Castle – built in 1658 – was the scene of historic Friday – or Jumu’ah – prayers at the end of May. They were incorporated into a cultural pre-Ramadan festival held inside its walls.

What is significant is that the Castle, a corporate structure built by the Dutch East India Company, was where slaves (many of whom were Muslim) were incarcerated, tortured and even torn apart at the wheel.  During World War I and II, the Castle was garrisoned by troops, as it was during the apartheid era.

In 1994, on the dawn of South Africa’s first democratic elections, a group of Muslims involved in the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Shaikh Yusuf of Makasar – an Indonesian exile sent to the Cape by the Company in 1694 – prayed the post sunset prayers on its lawns.

This was a hugely symbolic moment, marking the first time after 346 years that Muslims were free to practice their faith in a place that once typified the arrogance of imperial and apartheid grandeur.

To top it, the Friday prayers were led by Mufti Ebrahim Khalil al-Awadallah, the Islamic legal authority in Ramallah on the West Bank in Palestine. As a Palestinian, the occasion was not lost on him. In a broad-ranging address, in which he condemned extremism, he said that Palestinians – longing for freedom from Zionist apartheid – often looked to South Africa for inspiration.

The Castle entrance.

Cape Dutch gable inside the walls.

The historic prayer in  April 1994, led by Shaikh Yusuf da Costa.
Shaikh Abdul Karrim makes the call to prayer.
Mufti Ebrahim Khalil al-Awadallah in prayer.
Mufti Ebrahim Khalil al-Awadallah
A large crowd attended the Friday prayers.
Mufti al-Awadallah addresses the crowd.
Second left Shaikh Ebrahim Gabriels Muslim Judicial Council and Ebrahim Rasool, former Premier and SA ambassador in Washington.

Women listen to the sermon.

Jamiel Wallace: a gentle giant of community radio passes on

WIDELY acclaimed as the “gentle giant” of community radio, Hajji Jamiel Wallace passed away this week (Monday) after a short illness. An anchor at the Voice of the Cape, Jamiel Wallace – or Boeta Jamiel as his thousands of fans called him – rose from being a volunteer to a full-time presenter.

Born in Parow 70 years ago to William and Francis Wallace, Jamiel Wallace embraced Islam as a young man, marrying Fahma Stevens in 1973.  He worked for 30 years in the furniture business, where he says he learnt how to communicate.

Wallace was introduced to community radio in 1998 via his local mosque, Masjid Nur ul-Huda in Belhar, where he was its secretary. In those days, Voice of the Cape had a night shift – an empowerment initiative running from midnight to the early hours – that was organised by the station’s Community Forum.

Wallace was introduced to the night shift by then programme manager, Achmat Rylands.  Neighbour Imam Allie, finance manager at Voice of the Cape, wryly notes that he always thought his sociable friend would make it on radio.

Wallace was one of the successes of the Independent Broadcasting Act of 1993 that liberated our airwaves, rising to becoming Voice of the Cape’s breakfast show presenter. He also hosted an evening show, Talking Point, Sunday Live and just before his retirement last year, Friday Nasiha (spiritual counsel) with various clerics.

Voice of the Cape conducts many outside broadcasts – well over 100 a year – and it was at these OB’s that Wallace really made his mark. Whether it was at a mosque, a shopping centre or at the State of the Nation address, he would always be able to keep the airwaves alive with his gentle patter, endless anecdotes and good cheer.

He was also the master of ad-lib. Former news editor, Shanaz Ebrahim-Gire, recalls an incident in 2008 when the station’s power was cut due to an Eskom outage. The station was running on a small generator just enough to power up a mike and the transmission signal.

“One man, one microphone, no lights, no jingles, no ads, no music and he kept VOC on air by just talking! God alone knows where he got the energy to talk non-stop for what felt like forever, but what turned out to be two hours. What a legend!”

Another role that Wallace played was that of a consumer watchdog, using his wide range of contacts to help people in distress. Whether it was hire-purchase headaches – or even in one case, marital abduction in a foreign country – Wallace would quietly and unobtrusively find solutions. In the early SASSA years he ironed out grant problems for scores of people.

Although Wallace had retired early from the furniture business, his youngest daughter Watheeqah, says that her dad – apart from having green fingers in the garden– had always shared a passion for news and politics.

A gentle person with engaging manners, and never – ever – short of conversation, Wallace was not an in-your-face presenter. Adept in local politics, community issues and current affairs, he could pose the most awkward of questions, and make it sound like he was asking you how would like your tea. Guests liked, and trusted, him.

An avid reader and coffee drinker, Wallace was not a digital journalist. He would rely on hard copy, countless newspapers and his contacts. He was a skilled primary source journalist in the true sense of the word. And whilst he could improvise if he had to, former 
Breakfast Show producer, Goolam Fakier, said that he was always well-prepared.

Former colleague, Dorianne Arendse, said that one could give Wallace any topic, and he would find a way to break it down. “When we did the broadcasts at the State of the Nation, he would so easily strike up a conversation with the ministers and the MP’s…it was amazing ...”

News Editor, Tasneem Adams, said that Wallace had a unique ability to interact with people from all backgrounds, from religious clerics, community activists to businessman and politicians. But it was his natural warmth, charisma, and great sense of humour that cemented his bond with listeners, especially the elderly.

“Boeta Jamiel would often stand in my office and talk about anything and everything. It was a running joke sometimes that he just wouldn’t stop talking, especially when you’re on deadline. But I always appreciated the value he added to our newsroom. Even when he was in retirement, he would often call me with news stories or to chat about a political event. He just had so much passion…”

Wallace is survived by his wife, Fahma, his children Zieyaad, Ghalied, Lamees, Watheeqah and eleven grand-children.