Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

Self-Empowerment: Cape Muslim Challenges (1886 – 1890)

Posted by tahirfarrath on March 1, 2010

(History of Muslims in South Africa)

1886 – The cemetery riots

On Sunday, January 17, 1886, two days after Tana Baru Cemetery was officially closed when the Public Health Act No 4 of 1883 became statute, 3 000 Cape Muslims, in defiance of the law, buried a Muslim child at Tana Baru. Rioting broke out thereafter resulting in law and order being disrupted in Cape Town for three days. The Cemetery Riots of 1886 constituted probably the most significant religio-political event in the 19th century history of the Cape Muslims.

1886 – Activities of Achmat Attaoullah Effendi

Achmat Attaoullah [Ahmad `Ata Allah] Effendiwas born in Cape Town of a Capetonian mother and a Turkish father. He was actively involved in the affairs of the Muslim community, both in Cape Town and also at Kimberley.

The first major impression Achmat made was during the Cemetery Riot of 1886 when the Muslim community was split as a result of the Hanafi-Shafi’i disputes. He was an educated man and served on the Malay Cemetery Committee, alongside Abdol Burns, when delegated to see the Premier, Governor or the Colonial Secretary. He played an important role in the establishment of the Moslem Cemetery Board.

After the cemetery dispute, Achmat Effendi settled in Kimberley where he served as a religious teacher. He showed a keen interest in local politics and public affairs. While he was in Kimberley he decided to stand for a seat in the Cape Parliament. This disturbed the White South African politicians: De Waal, Cecil John Rhodes, Saur, Orpen, Jan Hofmeyer and others. To prevent Achmat Effendi from winning a seat in the Cape Parliament, the White ruling Parliament encouraged the Constitution Ordinance Amendment Bill and left it to Orpen to introduce it as a private member’s motion. The primary aim of the Bill was to curtail the cumulative vote [in Cape Town] which allowed the voter to exercise his given number of votes to a single candidate. Effendi with the Muslim vote of Cape Town would have had a fair chance of being elected through the cumulative system.

The Muslims were distressed at the Bill and the open attempt made to keep Achmat Effendi out of the House of Parliament. A petition registering the Muslim protest was given to Mr Barnato, MP for Kimberley. This action, spearheaded by the Cape imams and supported by Muslim voters, did not deter the passing of the third reading of the Bill – which came to be known as the “Effendi Bill”.

The Constitution Ordinance Amendment Act No 16 of 1893 became law on August 25, 1893. The debates clearly showed the racial prejudice of the White Parliamentarians. Effendi was not discouraged although confronted with a further problem: the “Ticket of Four”. Four candidates: T F Fuller, J Brown, H Beard and L Weiner, grouped themselves to fight the elections under one banner, whereby Effendi stood no chance of winning. Achmat Effendi submitted an open letter to the electorate on December 22, 1893, attacking theConstitution Ordinance Amendment Act and the “Ticket of Four”, and also presented his manifesto, making it known that he was a British subject and would represent the whole electorate of Cape Town, and not only the Muslims. The cardinal principles of his campaign were political equality, religious liberty and commercial and educational progress of the people of Cape Town. Polling day came on January 29, 1894. Achmat Effendi was heavily defeated, receiving only 699 votes. In his post-election speech, he declared: “It is the first time in the history of South Africa that a non-European candidate has stood for Parliament. I had the moral courage to do so. 1 bear my defeat like a man… ”

Achmat Effendi never again attempted to gain a seat in Parliament, a position which would have been impossible in 1910 with the formation of the Union of South Africa. Shortly after the 1894 elections, he left South Africa never to return. His was the first and last attempt by a Black voter to gain a seat in an open Parliament.


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