Muslims In South Africa: The Islamic Movement Perspective

Developing Just Leadership

Imran Khan

Rabi' al-Thani 17, 1445 2023-11-01

Islamic Movement

by Imran Khan (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 9, Rabi' al-Thani, 1445)

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

As South Africa deteriorates physically as well as in terms of human values and relations, there is a noticeable increase in bigotry coming from two primary sources: proponents of Black African nationalism and, proponents of Evangelical Christianity (Christian zionists). The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has failed to transform itself from a self-styled non-racist organization into an anti-racist organization due to the underlying ideology of Black African nationalism, an ideology that is a sibling of zionism and Hindutva fascism.

In fact, any nationalism must eventually express itself the same way as zionism and Hindutva fascism (delving into the ideology of Black African nationalism and Christian zionism is beyond the scope of this article; perhaps a topic for the future). By adopting the ideology of Black African nationalism, the ANC has perpetuated the Apartheid status quo and also antagonized Muslims who have not caved in to the nation-state system. Despite implementing a number of insignificant changes during its rule, South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world.

The inequality can be broken down into two broad categories: 1. Economic inequality and, 2. Racial inequaity.

The historical role of the ANC must be examined against the backdrop of Muslim struggle against colonialism and their relationship with the ANC. This is meant to raise awareness among the committed Muslims regarding the future role of the Islamic movement in South Africa. We must ask whether the ANC is capable of presenting any remedy to the fraying of society and whether it is capable of challenging the global Zionist-Imperial-Wahhabi order. Second, whether the time has long elapsed for the Islamic movement to realize that the best option after discovering that riding a dead horse is futile, they must dismount and get new means to forge ahead.

If the ANC is not the savior, then what is the alternative for the oppressed peoples to intensify the struggle in order to shape a just world order? In order to address the first question, we must focus on:

  1. History of the Islamic movement in South Africa;
  2. The ANC and support from the Muslim World;
  3. The racist roots of the ANC; and
  4. Palestine, the Muslim World and non-reciprocity from the ANC.

History of the Islamic movement in South Africa

Islam arrived in the Cape when Muslim political prisoners and exiles were brought in chains and leg-irons on May 13, 1668. Brought from Malaysia, Indonesia, Java, different parts of Asia and even Egypt, these Muslims were immediately transported to Robben Island. While Chief Autshumuto was the first commercial prisoner on Robben Island due to a commercial dispute with Jan van Riebeeck, Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah who was brought in chains from Sumatra on May 13, 1668 was the first to be imprisoned on Robben Island after the Muslims suffered a military defeat against colonialism at the Battle of the Castle of Soeroesang in 1667.

Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah was the first Muslim political prisoner on Robben Island and Rafiq Rohan was the last political prisoner to be wheel-chaired out of Robben Island.

Between the incarceration of Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah and Rafiq Rohan there were a number of influential personalities who hailed from Muslim families and took it upon themselves to fight oppression in their own way. Monumental errors were committed along this journey. Dr Yusuf Dadoo, described as “a secular Prophet” was a key figure in driving communist ideology and developing the nexus between the ANC and the USSR.

Yet none was as grave as the one in 1993, which broke away, in an institutionalized manner, from the Islamic and Prophetic revolutionary spirit. 750 co-opted delegates who were not representative of the Muslims but who had the means and the connections, met at the National Muslim Conference in Cape Town and unilaterally decided on the following:

  1. To mandate the ANC negotiating team to finalize a compromised solution to the CODESA deadlock;
  2. To protect Muslim dignity and identity through drafting the Bill of Rights;
  3. To protect Muslim marriage, inheritance, divorce, burial and dietary interests by initiating Muslim Personal Law.

The conference rightly affirmed Islam’s practice of non-racism but in order to justify their act of writing off Islamic self-determination and subsequent servitude to the ANC as described above, it went on to adopt democracy which it erroneously equated with shura. The delegates claimed that the lessons drawn from Islam’s historic Treaty of Hudaybiyah served as the basis for the Muslim attitude towards negotiations and compromise at CODESA, notwithstanding the fact that the Treaty of Hudaybiyah was negotiated from a position of strength in order to emphasize the grace, tolerance and mercy of Islam as a vindicated power, something that was absent at CODESA not only with regards to the position of the Muslims but also the oppressed people of South Africa.

This catastrophic decision institutionalized the split in the Islamic movement whereby Muslims with the means and connections displaced the revolutionary ideology of the Islamic movement and simultaneously instituted a new discourse tied to tokenism with an Islamic shell. For its part, the ANC has never been short on flattering such Muslims with tokenism and tolerance. On September 27, 2005 Thabo Mbeki conferred The Order of The Champions of OR Tambo in Gold on Sheikh Yusuf of Macassar for his struggle against colonialism and slavery. In fact, as far back as July 1994, Abdullah Mohamed Umar (popularly known as Dullah Omar) served as the first Muslim Acting State President in the absence of Mandela and his two deputies.

The ANC and support from the Muslim World

In 1962, a Muslim smuggled Nelson Mandela travelling under the alias David Motsamayi, out of South Africa. Mandela along with two colleagues shortly thereafter surfaced at a conference of African political leaders where he obtained only moral support but no material support. From there the delegation visited Cairo where he was ideologically influenced by Nasser’s Arab socialist economic reforms and nationalization of certain economic industries. The first material support came from Tunisia. It offered uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK, military wing of the ANC) military training for its soldiers and £5,000 to procure weapons.

Late, in Morocco, the delegation met Dr Shawqi Mustafa, head of the Algerian Liberation Mission who briefed him on the Algerian resistance to French colonialism. The delegation was impressed by the Algerian model of resistance being that it resembled a large “White” colonial population’s domination in a “Black/African” majority country.

When the sabotage campaign of the South African Communist Party was dissolved into MK, it was with lessons Mandela learnt from the Algerian struggle against colonialism. Thereafter, the delegation visited Ghana where Ahmed Sekou Toure gave them a suitcase full of money. In Tanzania, the local population always welcomed MK fighters, empathized with their plight and shared the little food they had with them.

In 1973 at the Lahore conference in Pakistan, the oil embargo against Apartheid was put into effect. After the Islamic revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran divested its interests in SASOL. This was at a time when truth and justice determined the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic rather than financial interests. As a goodwill gesture, Imam Khamene’i provided Mandela an airplane to visit Iran, Saudi Arabia and France. Post-revolution Islamic Iran was a major funder of the ANC in its years of struggle. It even allowed the use of the Shah’s former residence in Houghton, Johannesburg, to be used by ANC/MK operatives.

Racist roots of the ANC

The ANC, (formerly the South African Native National Congress, SANNC) was founded on the basis of “Black” nationalism within conditions of subjugation at the hands of “white” supremacists. “Blacks” lived as an integrated community, bonded in neighborliness and sharing abject poverty. This condition ingrained an attitude of racial exclusivity which characterized the nature of ANC membership.

In the 1950s, non-Africans were not allowed membership of the ANC. The ideology of Black African nationalism did not allow non-Africans to become members despite the commitment to non-racism by the rare leadership of Albert Luthuli. The Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 was a transparent declaration of non-revolution which also affirmed a racial and racist South Africa.

The opening clause refers to Black and White, two racist terms that fitted perfectly with the Population Registration Act of 1950 (even though the act was repealed in 1991). The ANC then introduced a policy of Affirmative Action which cemented the classifications that were created in terms of the Population Registration Act. In between, the ANC Kabwe Conference in 1985 pardoned Tennyson Makiwane and seven others who were expelled a decade earlier for opposing non-racial membership in the ANC, among other things. This ideology of Black African nationalism, which is no different from zionism and Hindutva fascism, has recently been used aggressively by most leaders of the ANC to once again racially exclude “non-Black Africans” from the bureaucracy, its structures and business through the opportunistic implementation of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE).

All these actions reflect the ANC’s failure to transform itself from a self-styled non-racist entity to an anti-racist organization. Again, this was due to the underlying ideology of Black African nationalism. It was politically based in the pre-1994 era of Apartheid and today it is economic based.

In the post-1994 era of Apartheid, the ANC is aggressively returning to its characteristic racially exclusive nature which had been characteristic until the 1950s. At best, it only wants “Black” African leaders with the exception of a few token and compliant “non-Black” faces.

Palestine, the Muslim World and non-reciprocity of the ANC

Despite stating that parties should resolve their differences through peaceful means and dialogue, the ANC-led government voted shamefully in favor of UNSC Resolution 1973, which imposed the NATO no-fly zone on Libya.

Not only did South Africa vote in favor of this resolution, it also voted for UNSCR 1929 and UNSCR 1747 which imposed economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, one of its staunchest supporters. Pretoria has a track record of treachery, especially against the Islamic Republic. Yet it makes tall claims about being non-aligned.

South African arms companies have cashed in on the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two main aggressors in Yemen.

The ANC government’s position on the status of Palestine, the litmus test for the veracity of any claims to being a revolutionary movement, needs comment. Pretoria has consistently spoken with a forked-tongue re-affirming time and again and on numerous occasions the right of the colonizer, Israel, to exist. It communicates to the people of Palestine that “we are with them in their struggle for national freedom from the Israeli regime”, that it believes “a peaceful Israel can only exist with a peaceful Palestine as per the 1947 Resolution 181 and Resolution 242 of 1948 and all these premised on the 1967 borders”. It reaffirmed this position in its memorandum to the Israeli Embassy in South Africa when it again reiterated a “call for the speedy resolution of the conflict through the two-state solution, of Israel and of Palestine, premised on the 1967 borders and UN resolutions.

This position indicates that the government is non-revolutionary at best and schizophrenic at worst. Yet this pattern is consistent because even Mandela granted colonial exceptionalism to Jews when he said “he understands the Jewish community’s commitment to Israel…” He went further and said “he recognizes the right to existence of the State of Israel, along with the right of Palestinians to live in their own homeland.” It was Arthur Balfour who had said “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

An objective reader would realize that there is nothing substantially different in purpose, intent or meaning between the two statements. Both legitimize the colonial entity of Israel!

The ANC’s dubious support for the Palestinian people is exposed by the government granting visa exemption for Israelis but not for Palestinians. Visa restrictions were imposed on the Palestinians post-1994. In other words, the ANC-led government introduced stiff conditions on Palestinians, making it impossible for them to enter South Africa, but it allowed Israelis free access. It is pertinent to recall at this juncture that the visit to South Africa by the spiritual leader of Hamas, Shaykh Ahmed Yasin was revoked none other than Mandela at the insistence of the Palestinian Authority, behind which is the zionist settler colonial entity.

Then, on October 15, 2023, during the colonial zionist regime’s latest genocidal attacks on Gaza, the South African Minister from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor was asked about shutting the Israeli embassy. She replied: “we must take action that has an effect. I do not believe in taking action for show because it is radical but doesn’t advance anything.” She added “I would not recommend the government taking a decision that would have no effect in terms of the core issue which is the freedom of the people of Palestine.” Yet the minister then hypocritically asks: “why is it that South Africa was able to marshal international solidarity against Apartheid but why is it that we cannot marshal international solidarity in the interests of the people of Palestine?!” The answer is simple: at that time human rights rather than financial interests determined foreign policy.

This hypocrisy of the ANC-led government is not new. On November 29, 2012, South Africa supported the non-member status of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly. Less than a month later, in December 2012, it granted a $51 billion contract to a French-led Consortium, Alstrom to upgrade its passenger rail system. Alstrom, in violation of international law, since 2002 was a key stakeholder involved in the Jerusalem Light Rail Project, which connected many illegal zionist colonial settlements in East Jerusalem. In 2008, Alstom had signed a contract worth more than 1.3 billion euros with South African state-owned utility Eskom to provide key equipment for a coal-fired power station.

These actions of the ANC government indicate a gross misalignment between stated policy objectives and actions on the ground. What should be clear as far as the Islamic movement is concerned is that the ANC, as an organization and as the ruling party, is an unreliable partner for transforming South Africa and playing any meaningful role against global oppression. This leads us to the all-important question of the role of the Islamic movement in South Africa.

It must be clear ideologically about its role, purpose and objectives. The historical role of the Islamic movement as demonstrated by Scripture and Prophetic history is to change the status quo from one of falsehood and injustice to one of truth and justice, notwithstanding the fact that the odds will always be stacked against it. The Islamic movement will always find itself out-numbered and out-gunned yet these are positions it has to withstand.

The overview of the history of the Islamic movement in South Africa makes it clear that its committed sons and daughters have never been constrained by artificial constructs such as race or national origin. It has a theoretical framework and ideological basis that is beyond the ideology of narrow Black African nationalism which enables it to deal effectively with breakdown in social cohesion, rising racism and xenophobia.

Muslims were prepared throughout history and particularly in South Africa to lead the struggle for truth and justice and make the requisite sacrifices in the process. Experience of the last four decades has been an aberration of that history to lead the struggle.

With hindsight and having experienced 30 years of failures, there is no longer any space for Muslims to advocate in favor of choosing between options ranging from the lesser to the greater evils as embodied by the current 13 political parties within the South African secular constitutional democracy. With the ANC just recently “condemning, in the strongest terms, the brutal killing of civilians by Hamas” and simultaneously stating “we reaffirm the longstanding support for and solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine” it has clearly taken the position of wedge-driver and the responsibility to divide and separate the Islamic resistance from the course of the Palestinian people.

This it has done while stating only that it is “perturbed by the genocidal and atrocious activities of the state of Israel.” What this means in reality is that the ANC as the ruling party is only having feelings of anxiety due to the genocide being perpetrated by the colonial state of Israel! This speaks volumes about the position of the ANC-led government despite Muslim apologists trying to differentiated between the ANC as an organization and as the ruling party.

It is dishonest to assert that “the South African government has relations with states, not with parties or non-state actors, and the ANC has relationships with other parties”. Or, that “meetings and agreements were between Hamas, the political party, and the ANC, as a political party.”

The Islamic movement in South Africa should be absolutely clear that it cannot support any political party which for public consumption, one set of values and principles yet when it gets into power begins to get confused about those values and principles and what it means to act on them. The Islamic movement should begin to take its Divinely ordained mandate seriously when Allah says:

“You (the committed and united Muslims) are in truth the best social order (Ummah) that has ever been merged into humanity (for its prosperity): you compel (and legitimize) the common good and you interdict (and outlaw) the common wrong, and you are dedicated to Allah…” (Surah Aal Imran, verse 110).

If we, the committed Muslims, are the best, we are expected to lead. And if the collected and combined Muslims are “the best” in Allah’s Words, then we are expected to lead society in accordance with Divine guidance. The Ummah was not made to tow the lines of narrow nationalism, tribalism or racism. The Muslim Ummah was made to lead with modesty, decency and humility.

The refrain that South Africa has the best constitution in the world, is often invoked. Muslims boast about the freedoms they enjoy and that the constitution guarantees them to practice their religion. If that is the case, Muslims have every right to propagate the revolutionary ideology of the Islamic movement and move beyond tokenism and the Islamic shell in which they reside.

It is time for Muslims to move beyond building masajid, schools and organizations that serve only to preserve the status quo.

Muslims must commit to realigning their respective social orders to the Divine Power Culture. Open public debate within the Ummah must start as soon as possible on Islamic ideology as the best and only means to rescue society so that Muslims can begin to sow the seeds of leadership. This must be based on the consciousness of Allah’s power and authority to set a directional course to transform the society morally, socially and politically.

Imran Khan is an Associate of the ICIT based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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