Muslim influence on post-apartheid
South
African politics would make
an interesting 
subject for a serious,
dispassionate academic study free from
subjective or emotional involvement .

In a lecture delivered to the Muslim Institute in London, (republished by the Voice of the Cape radio station that serves the Muslim community) Faizal Dawjee quoted Nelson Mandela’s tribute to South African Muslims who died while in detention because of their resistance to apartheid; Babla Saloojee; Imam Haron; Ahmed Timol; and Dr Hussein Haffejee. Mandela said:

“..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”.

Credit is due too to Ahmed Kathrada who was jailed with Neslon Mandela on RobbenIsland.

However Mr. Dawjee admitted that during the apartheid era the established Muslim orthodoxy (the Ulama) had declared considerable loyalty to the apartheid government, adding that for many Muslims there was neither the need nor the capacity to change the status quo or to initiate resistance against apartheid. He said

“..the established orthodoxy, i.e. the Ulama, of all communities shared two attitudes: they generally were conservative and showed little preparedness for change, and they declared considerable loyalty to the government in power, being responsive to co-optation.

For many Muslims there was neither the need nor the capacity to change the status quo or to initiate resistance against apartheid, even more so because religious practice was not restricted. Almost all Ulama and this is true for the Western Cape, Natal, and Transvaal alike were complacent, silent, and even apolitical with regard to the political landscape, especially in the course of the 1960s and 1970s”.

Mr. Dawjee’s admission confirms a report by the Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger of October 29, 1985 that praised the Muslim community for its cooperation with the apartheid government as follows:

“Moderate Muslim theologians (geestelikes) in the Peninsula are of the opinion that not even civil disobedience is permissible for the Muslim minority in South Africa where they are to obey the law and are under obligation to negotiate if they consider the political system to be unjust or oppressive.”

It is remarkable that, despite the Muslim community’s accommodation with the apartheid regime, it nevertheless exerts a disproportionate influence on post-apartheid South African politics considering that it represents only approximately 1.5% of the population..

With 858 Mosques and Sharia committees already monitoring the products and activities of banks, Mr. Dawjee describes the many madrassahs and mosques as an impressive religious infrastructure in all the towns and cities in which Muslims live and he discusses the high visibility of the Muslim community and its political and societal participation with many ministerial offices and other significant positions and professions.

Muslim cabinet ministers have included Kader Asmal (Water Affairs), Valli Moosa (Environment), Abdullah Omar (Justice), and Naledi Pandor (Education). Aziz Pahad was a deputy minister of foreign affairs, Essop Pahad was a special advisor to President Mbeki; Ebrahim Rassool was premier of the Western Cape and currently severs as ambassador to the US and Justice Ismail Mohammed occupied the most senior legal position in the country until his death. The present Auditor General is Shaukat Fakie in addition to many Muslim MP’s and officials at national as well as local government level.

The question naturally arises as to what extent South Africa’s growing unfriendly attitude to Israel is due to Muslim influence. Last year Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ismael Ebrahim called on South Africans to avoid visiting Israel and a planned trip to Israel by KwaZulu-Natal mayors and officials was called off because of pressure from the pro-Palestine lobby.

Typical Muslim demonstration outside Parliament in Cape Town with usual inflammatory, anti-Israel speeches and posters.  (Photo by David Kaplan)

Typical Muslim demonstration outside Parliament in Cape Town with usual inflammatory, anti-Israel speeches and posters. (Photo by David Kaplan)

It is ironic that this anti-Israelism occurs despite the fact that Jews were disproportionately active in opposing the apartheid regime from the earliest days. When Mandela started his career, it was a Jewish lawyer Lazar Sidelsky who did what no other White lawyer would then do; engage a black man as an articled clerk.

Contrasting with the report in the Burger about the Muslim community’s accommodation with apartheid, Afrikaans newspapers regularly accused the Jews of subverting the apartheid regime, pointing to the high percentage among the whites detained by the police. Comprising only 0.6% of the population, a very high proportion of South African Jews actively opposed apartheid. Of the 23 Whites charged in the 1956 Treason Trial, no less than 14 (60%) were Jews. The legal defense team was led by Israel Maisels, and included Sydney Kentridge, both well-known leaders of the Jewish community

Jews were prominent in the famous 1963 Rivonia Trial that resulted after the ANC established underground headquarters at the farm home of the late Arthur Goldreich who had served in the Israel army in the 1948 Israel War of Independence. Mandela stayed there in the guise of a farm worker and it was there that Umkhonto we Sizwe was conceived. Significantly, all the whites arrested there were Jewish: Arthur Goldreich, Rusty Bernstein, Dennis Goldberg, Bob Hepple, and Dr Hilliard Festenstein.

In his statement from the dock Mandela said

“I naturally found Rivonia an ideal place for the man who lived the life of an outlaw..For obvious reasons, I had to disguise myself and I assumed the fictitious name of David. We [Goldreich and I] discussed ideological and practical questions, the Congress Alliance, Umkhonto and its activities generally, and his experiences as a soldier in the Palmach, the military wing of the Haganah [the Israel army]”

Mandela`s book, Long Walk to Freedom reveals that mostly Jews were responsible for hiding him during his underground days. For example he hid with WW2 veteran, Wolfie Kodesh and wrote that Kodesh’s knowledge of warfare and battle experience were extremely helpful.

Click here for more.

As far back as 1962 South Africa’s apartheid government sharply criticized Israel for voting in favor of UNGA resolution 1761 condemning SA’s apartheid. Significantly, the USA, UK and France voted against the resolution while Norway, Sweden and Finland chose to abstain

Israeli premier Golda Meir said it would have been contrary to Jewish morality for Israel to have failed to raise its voice against the “shameful iniquity” of South Africa’s apartheid policy.

Little is known about the important Israeli support of Black resistance to apartheid like the extensive program carried out covertly by MASHAV at teaching facilities in Israel during the darkest days of apartheid; training Black South Africans for future leadership in a variety of fields. Click here for a story on this subject by David Kaplan

The anomaly that despite the acknowledged cooperation with the apartheid government, Muslims now exert disproportionate influence in post-apartheid South African politics, would certainly make an interesting subject for a dispassionate socio-political academic study.