‘A visionary who believed in justice, truth and humanity’

Imam Achmad Cassiem, anti-apartheid activist and founding member of Qibla, died on Friday July 14.

Tributes from across the country have poured in for anti-apartheid activist Imam Achmad Cassiem, 77.

Imam Cassiem died in the early hours of Friday July 14. He was diagnosed with cancer in January.

His daughter, Dr Wagheda Cassiem-Soeker, said her father consciously took a decision to attend the Anti-Pass Campaign march that took place in Cape Town in 1960 at age 15. “This was to be a turning point. At age 17 he was sentenced to five years on Robben Island but served six years (the extra year for trying to escape with Dr Sedick Isaacs and three others),” said Dr Cassiem-Soeker.

He was among the youngest Robben Island prisoners.

After his release from Robben Island, he defied a banning order to remain politically active. He was also a founding member of the Qibla Movement, which was established in 1979.

He was detained in the late 1980s again and released in 1991.

In later years, he served as national chairman of the Islamic Unity Convention and as an advisor to the Islam Human Rights Commission. Imam Cassiem was also the author of Begging Bowl and several other books.

On Friday morning, hundreds of mourners gathered at his Lansdowne home for his funeral. Political and religious leaders were among those who paid their respects.

In a statement, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “Imam Cassiem lived a life of courage, principle and faith in mobilising communities on the Cape Flats and around the country against apartheid. Imprisonment, confinement to his home and repeated harassment and detention by the apartheid security machine failed to extinguish the flame of resistance and revolution that burned in his being and which he ignited in everyone he inspired as an activist. We are grateful for his life and wish him eternal, peaceful rest.”

Dr Cassiem-Soeker said her father had left a lasting legacy.

“He taught us valuable lessons and one is that there is only one race – the human race. He firmly stood to be anti-racist.”

His wife, Ghairunisa Johnstone-Cassiem, the director of the Mustadafin Foundation, said: “Achmad was 30 years ahead of his time. He was a visionary who believed in justice, truth and humanity. He believed in a united Africa, and that there cannot be peace without justice. He fought for a just social order. He stood by his principles and just like he believed we are all one human race, he also believed that we are people of faith. He was also well-read on a vast range of topics. To me, he was a living encyclopaedia. I learnt so much from him. May Allah be pleased with him.“

Imam Cassiem was buried according to Muslim rites at the Johnson Road cemetery. He leaves his wife, four children and grandchildren.