Thank you very much for inviting me to address this wonderful occasion marking the MAIK centenary celebrations. There are many from the Kholvad community that have excelled in politics, sports, business, academia and in the professions. However in my contribution I am going to comment on three remarkable South Africans who made an enormous contribution to the struggle for national liberation, peace, freedom and democracy in our country.
The three are Dr. Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo, Suliman ‘Babla’ Saloojee and Ahmed Timol. Obviously it would take me at least a few hours to pay homage to those three. But we all know Moosa Jeenah can be a tough cookie and his instruction is 10 minutes. Now if I defy him, not only will I incur his wrath, but as my accountant he may well mess up my books.
The first example is Dr. Dadoo, popularly known as ‘Mota’, or to some of us who had the pleasure, privilege and unforgettable experience of working with him and under his leadership, as ‘Uncle Doc’.
Uncle Doc must be recognised and regarded as one of the greatest freedom fighters produced in South Africa. He ranks with the other giants of our revolutionary struggle such as Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Chief Albert Luthuli,to name a few. Without a doubt he is in the top 10 of most formidable South Africans in the last century and remains the greatest South African of Indian origin.
Dr. Dadoo was instrumental in initiating, developing and sustaining a long and enduring relationship between the Indian Congresses and the ANC, the Communist Party and the progressive trade union movement. Chief Albert Luthuli, Father Trevor Huddleston and Mota were the first recipients of Isitwalandwa/Seapatankoe: the highest Honour awarded by the ANC.
Uncle Doc was a gentle, humble giant. He was very fond of saying he was merely “a humble musket-bearer”. He was totally dedicated to the struggle, a master of the strategy and tactics required to defeat Apartheid, that ‘Crime Against Humanity’, and a profound internationalist. In the course of his life he commanded the respect and even admiration of many political leaders in the world, including Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Ghandi and Oginga Odinga.
Dr. Dadoo knew how to work with those of us who were much younger. He would guide and lead us in a patient, understanding and respectful manner. We learnt so much from him. He died on 19 September 1983, at the age of 74, in London.
On his death messages of condolences were received from prominent leaders and governments from Africa, Europe, Asia as well as from the Socialist countries and other parts of the International anti-apartheid movement. Mandela called Dadoo “one of the giants of our country’s struggle for freedom.” He was truly a giant, a formidable leader and extraordinary human being.
Let us all learn from him that the struggle against racism, sexism, intolerance, national oppression and international solidarity should guide our lives. His widow Rookey is with us.
The Second subject in this short speech is Suliman “Babla” Saloojee. Babla was famous for pretending to be a lawyer when trying to secure the release of comrades under arrest. Ahmed Kathrada points out in his book Memoirs that in organising for the May Day strike in 1950, Babla “was involved in almost every escapade, every brush with the police and every arrest.” Mosey Moola was part of that group called the Picasso club. He has been involved in the struggle for at least 64 years. He deserves a round of applause.
Babla was courageous, never sparing himself; and he performed his responsibilities and duties diligently. He was a most lovable character, a practical freedom fighter and also an internationalist. Kathrada writes of him…
Each visit (That is to Robben Island), no matter who the fortunate recipient was a joyful occasion for all of us. It was a tangible reminder that there was still a world outside our prison, and if we were lucky we would glean some snippet of information, however small, on what was happening in our country. More importantly it was one of the few ways in which we could get news of loved ones and comrades.
So it was with great excitement that we waited, one Saturday afternoon in September, for Walter to have his first visit from Mama Albertina, his wife. We had been on the island for 3 months and waited eagerly for Tshopo, as we affectionately called Walter, to return to tell us everything.
We could see at once that he was upset, and the news he brought shocked us into silence. Suliman Saloojee, my dearest friend Babla, was dead, killed by the police.
This most gentle of men, this inveterate prankster, my comrade and source of strength , had been picked up under the ninety-day law, brutally interrogated and tortured to death- by the sadistic Rooi Rus Swanepoel – then flung from a window on the 7th floor of Gray’s building, Johannesburg headquarters of the Security Police, on Wednesday September 9, 1964. His death, and the nature of it filled me with grief and rage such as I have seldom known, and I would never again think of Babla without an echo of the utter horror that passed through me that Saturday afternoon.
Not surprisingly, the so-called inquest accepted the police version that Babla had committed suicide by jumping to his death. I have never doubted, however, that he died under interrogation, and that his body was then thrown out of the window.
Over the years we never stopped talking about Babla. At least a dozen of the thirty or so inmates in my section had known him, but none so well as I. We had been friends since the late 1940’s; he had stayed at my flat for a lengthy period and I loved him like a younger brother. I simply could not come to terms with Babla’s death. He was too young, too vibrant, too loved by his family and friends to be gone. I dreamt about him many, many times – alive, laughing, teasing, mischievous, a restless spirit, never sad or depressed. I could not conceive of Babla dead, and throughout my prison term, it was the memory of his life I clung to.
As soon as possible after my release, I stood silently by his grave, overwhelmed by my memories of this remarkable man. One of the most lovable Kholvadians Ahmed Khota-Quarter- was in a cell next to Babla.
Babla was only 32 years old when he was so brutally tortured and murdered in September 1964. As we mark this centenary let us pause and reflect on the life and times of our beloved Babla.
The third one is Ahmed Timol. ‘Timol’, as we always called him, was one of my dearest and closest friends and comrades. He was a gentle, caring, warm, generous person with a wry smile and an endearing sense of humour. Timol was a brilliant cricketer and a wonderful teacher. As a batsman he was unflappable, patient, with an array of attractive cricketing shots. If it was not for apartheid and racism Ahmed could have attained representative honours.
In December 1966 Timol made his pilgrimage to Mecca where he met Uncle Doc and Molvi Cachalia, (both of whom, of course, he had long known). In April 1967 he arrived, unannounced, in London and shared a flat with my father, brother Aziz, niece Yasmin (now Dadabhay, Ronnie Kaka, Yusuf Saloojee, Vijay Rama, Ahmed Pochee, and myself. Timol found a teaching job and from his meagre earnings, he unfailingly sent money to his family. In London he was a voracious reader of left-wing books, journals and magazines. He was then recruited by Uncle Doc into the ranks of the SACP, MK and the underground ANC. As part of his training he was sent to the Lenin party School of Moscow in 1969. The other student with him was Thabo Mbeki, former President of our country. During that year of study they formed and enduring friendship and comradeship. Unlike Thabo, Ahmed was not a theoretician, but he was exceptionally studious and completed his studies with distinction.
On his return from Moscow he received specialised training from Jack Hodgson, including how to construct leaflet bombs. When I think about him now, I remember the many enjoyable discussions we had with Timol on a wide range of topics. How so many of us wish that he would still be alive to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our freedom and democracy.
In February 1970 Timol returned to Roodepoort and to his old teaching post. He worked long and hard to build up his underground networks, distributing illegal pamphlets and leaflets, preparing materials for the movement and keeping the leadership abreast of socio-political developments in South Africa.
After his arrest Timol was most brutally tortured. Throughout his detention and torture Ahmed remained firm in his resolve and convictions. When they failed to get him to renounce the movement and implicate other comrades he was murdered and thrown out of the window of that torture chamber in the notorious John Vorster police station on 27 October 1971 at the age of 30. All this is recounted in a book by his nephew Imtiaz Cajee.
Timol was an outstanding revolutionary, a passionate internationalist and an extraordinarily fearless person. Ahmed will forever live in our hearts and minds.
Two of these remembered heroes, our martyrs, Babla and Timol, one at the age of 32 and the other at 30, were mercilessly murdered. They sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
All three of them epitomised all that is best in humanity. Let us take pride that the Kholvad community produced those extraordinary freedom fighters. Their roots were in the Kholvad community and they embraced people from all walks of life, class, gender and race. In celebrating this centenary let us try to emulate them.
There is and never should be any place in our hearts and minds for any form or manifestation of racism. Let us always remember the plight of other oppressed peoples. In this context let us intensify our solidarity with the embattled Palestinians for freedom, justice and national independence.
Allow me in conclusion to congratulate the Board of MAIK and the many volunteers who gave their time, energy and drive to organise this joyous occasion. I am sure that those who had misgivings about organising such an event will now agree that is fit and proper to celebrate with pride, dignity and humility this important centenary. We are all aware that MAIK has incurred costs in celebrating this centenary, and I appeal to all present to support MAIK financially and to become actively involved in their work and affairs.
Once more congratulations to all those involved in giving all of us an opportunity to get together, renew old friendships and make new ones.