Friday, 30 November 2012

Is South Africa under Muslim rule?

The following comes from a lecture delivered by Faizal Dawjee to the Muslim Institute in London. See "Muslims in anti-Apartheid" for the full article.

Nelson Mandela at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, 11 July 1997 said: “I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those South African Muslims who died while in detention because of their resistance to apartheid; Babla Saloojee; Imam Haron; Ahmed Timol; and Dr Hussein Haffejee. They represent the involvement of the Muslim community in the struggle for justice and freedom, as does the presence of Muslims as Cabinet Ministers and in the highest office of our judiciary, in the new democratic political dispensation of our country.”

Muslims constitute just more than 1% of the total population of South Africa.  Notwithstanding the small percentage of Muslims it has been observed that the Muslim influence is disproportionate to their small numbers. But what were the conditions that have made it possible for Muslims to obtain such an influential position in post-Apartheid South Africa? And more importantly what implications if any, has this had on Muslim identities in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Role of Muslims in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle

As early as 1977, whilst still in prison, Nelson Mandela visited the shrine of Shaykh Madura, one of the early Muslim ancestors who had been incarcerated on the Robben Island prison in the eighteenth century for his anti-colonial stance. Islam has grow by three phases in South Africa: The first phase brought the earliest Muslims as part of the involuntary migration of slaves, political prisoners and political exiles from Africa and Asia that lasted from about 1652 to the mid-1800’s. The second phase was the arrival of Indians as indentured laborers to work in the sugar-cane fields in Natal between 1860 and 1868, and again from 1874 to 1911. Of the approximately 176,000 Indians of all faiths who were transported to the Natal province, almost 7-10% of the first shipment were Muslims.

The third phase has been marked- post apartheid – by the wave of African Muslims that have arrived on the shores and borders of South Africa. Recent figures put the number at approximately at 75-100 000. Added to this are a considerable number of Muslims from the Indo-Pak subcontinent that have arrived as economic migrants. This has added to and enhanced the rich tapestry of Islam in the country.

While the small numbers of African Muslims did not make for a sustained and long lasting relationship, this was also coloured by feelings of overt racism and prejudice. Only as recent as the 1980’s were more African Muslims brought into the mainstream organizations, albeit at a very slow pace. This caused African Muslims to form their own organizations in the late 1990’s.

Post-apartheid challenges

The visibility of the Muslim community in South Africa and its political and societal participation may be seen as a post-apartheid phenomenon since numerous ministerial offices and other significant positions and professions are held and practised by Muslims. Political liberation raised new questions with regard to the identity of South African Muslims.

POLITICALLY: Muslims have, in the main, linked themselves with the oppressed black people and participated in the political struggle

RELIGIOUSLY: Muslims have built madrassahs and mosques in all the towns and cities in which they live.

Some Muslims engaged with the ANC on a principled basis; others, the Ulama and merchant classes cozied up to them for Muslim Personal Law and business contracts. As to the merchant class, a whole new struggle class emerged like the Shaikh brothers who colluded with the black ANC members to sponge off the country.

Pre Apartheid Engagements

Ahmed Kathrada and Ismail Meer played a key role in persuading Mandela to work in a non-racial alliance rather than within an Africanist framework. Also Mandela developed a very close personal relationship with his lawyer, Abdullah Omar, who post apartheid became South Africa’s Minister of Justice.

There were many Muslims organizations that were predominant in South Africa – Muslim Judicial Council, Muslim Youth Movement, the Jamiat ul Ulema’s, Qibla, Islamic Council of South Africa, and the Call of Islam. Of these the MYM, Qibla and the Call were the most visible in the struggle. The call were "the ANC at prayer" and were regarded as the Muslim front within the Congress movement in South Africa. Key leaders of this front were Ebrahim Rasool, currently serving as South Africa's Ambassador to the United States of America.

In 1987, members of the Muslim Youth Movement met with the leadership of the ANC in exile in Lusaka, Zambia. It was a watershed meeting where ideas were exchanged and the birth of a new relationship emerged that served the community well in the future.

There has been a long standing relationship between the ANC and Arab and other Muslim governments. For decades the ANC has been receiving funding from Arab governments and from Mahatir Mahomed of Malaysia. Mandela’s personal relationship with Arafat, Ghaddafi and Bandar bin Sultan also allowed for greater contact between the ANC and the Middle East.

Post Apartheid Engagements

A National Muslim Conference was convened prior to the democratic elections in 1994 brought Muslims together to contribute in planning for the new South Africa.

During the first election of 1994, progressive Muslim organizations called upon Muslims to support the ANC.

The Muslim factor played a prominent role in the run up to the elections - making up with controversy where they lack numbers, constituting about 2% of the population.

Presidents Ghadaffi and Khatami called on Muslims to vote in the 1994 elections.

Most Muslims who had registered to vote turned up at the polls with most, giving their vote to the ANC.

In 1994, shortly before South Africa’s elections, the newly formed Islamic Unity Convention (IUC) adopted this rejectionist political stance toward the “peace process” and called on Muslims to boycott the elections. While Muslims largely ignored this call, the rejectionist political posture that it represented continued to live on in the Islamic rhetoric and activities the Muslim vigilante movement, People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD). In August of 1996 PAGAD burst onto the national scene with its organized campaign of killing drug dealers and bombing their homes.

Muslim count in SA Parliament

While constituting about 2% of the total SA population:

During the 1994 election 5 Muslims were appointed as Ministers.
During the last elections in 2004, Naledi Pandor, the first Muslim woman was appointed as Minister of Education.
The first Chief Justice of the country after 1994 was Ismail Mahomed, a prominent Muslim activist.
The present Auditor General of the country is Shaukat Fakie, and there are many Muslim MP at national as well as local government.

See also Prominent Muslims in South Africa


  1. There were many differing reasons and phases of migration, including mobility within the British empire and mobility after. The current South African Muslim community is no longer dominated by an Indo-Pak influence, with many African, Arab and Western Muslim influences pervasive in the community. The IndoPak region comprises more people than most of Europe and is in itself a diverse mix of people with a variety of Islamic establishments. The Shaikh brothers were actual anti-apartheid stalwarts, not opportunistic merchant class. Muslim people were subjected to apartheid pressures like other communities, and reacted with the same anti-racialist response as Ghandi (a Hindu) and many others did. Islamic societies always encouraged a universal human outlook, unlike the powerfully apartheid State church-endorsed view of the time. Key Figures in African revolutions were Muslim too, as well as non-racialists in the US and other countries. You also ignore the post-colonial discontents. The relationship with post-colonial revolutionary figures who happen to be Muslim is no different to relationships with similar figures who aren't (latin-American, African, Eastern European, Chinese etc). Overall a stream of generalisations, false connections, half-learnt history and a projection of post 9-11 paranoia driven by a host of Islamophobic assertions. The Indian community in general and regardless of religion, has a disproportionate influence on economics and culture in South Africa particularly because of the dynamic cultural alternative it presents, and the success (earned through hard honest work) that it has achieved. Sorry for you neh.

  2. P.S. The current AG is Terence Nombembe. Shaukat Fakie did not just the first Chief Justice of a democratic South Africa, but was also the first non-white to earn silk, practiced throughout Southern Africa and happened to also be the Chief Justice of Namibia, whose constitution he co-authored. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, you don't understand the history and reasons Muslims have been so influential in South African life, but you also don't understand the reason Islam was such a prominent religious ideology in the struggle against global injustice. I think this article is an example of "playing the race card". A struggle which continues to this day.

  3. Thanks for factual, non biased piece if history. I fail to see the race card being played as per previous post. Eish! we still there? - Saamprater