Archive | July 2014

South Africa: protests, doctors, food aid for Gaza

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

A coalition of grassroots activists have launched a daily picket campaign starting outside Parliament tomorrow (MONDAY), vowing to protest until the South African government expels the Israeli ambassador.

The campaign is organised by the Action Forum in Support of Palestine, based in Cape Town, which has also run a boycott of Israeli goods at various supermarkets.

One of the forum organisers, Shaheed Mahomed, said their meetings have comprised “50 people linked to various organisations and activist networks”.

“People are very clear that this is not a religious movement but all religions are welcome. We have municipal workers, union members, youth groups and people from the ANC, Economic Freedom Fighters and the anti-war movement,” he said.

Mahomed said they would meet outside Parliament from 12pm to 2pm tomorrow. From Tuesday, they would gather at the Grand Parade daily from 4pm to “turn it into a Tahrir Square (mimicking protests in Cairo)”.

“There is a genocide in Gaza. We feel there needs to be more pressure put on the government to act. We are going into a daily picket mode until our government expels the Israeli ambassador,” said Mahomed.

“We also want any South African citizen who is in the Israeli army to be prosecuted immediately. Our government must cut trade links with Israel.”

The forum has called on locals to boycott local retailers that “continue to import food products from Israel”.

This involves “filling trolleys with Israeli goods and goods from companies that support Israel, have the tills ring up the goods, call the manager and speak about removing all these goods from the shelves”.

Other local NGOs have assisted Palestinians in Gaza with medical and food supplies.

Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, said their “teams have already delivered much needed aid to various hospitals in Gaza”.

“We are preparing a humanitarian aid flight for Gaza, with specialist medical teams, emergency equipment and medical supplies. Medical personnel specific to the situation are being selected from the overwhelming response of 120 volunteers who have responded for this dangerous and high risk mission,” said Sooliman.

He said there was a “lack of medical equipment, medicines, general medical supplies and a shortage of skilled trauma specialists” in Gaza.
Sooliman said they were in contact with the Egyptian government via the South Africa department of international relations and cooperation.

“We are just waiting for the go-ahead from Egypt so we can enter Gaza through the Rafah border crossing. We depend now only on diplomatic support,” he said.

The Cape Town-based South African National Zakah Fund this week sent R1-million to assist Palestinians in Gaza with food. It said the funds was handed to an international NGO that has offices in Palestine and it had purchased and distributed food this week, ahead of Eid ul-Fitr celebrations.

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Bo Kaap imam’s autobiography released

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ten years after his death the autobiography of well-known Bo-Kaap’s Imam Abdurahman Bassier, who served as a spiritual leader for 44 years, was launched recently.

Imam Abdurahman Bassier, who served as a spiritual leader for 44 years. Picture Supplied

Imam Abdurahman Bassier, who served as a spiritual leader for 44 years. Picture Supplied

Bassier played a vital role as leader of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and is also remembered for his friendship with deceased statesman Nelson Mandela.

This friendship was formed over a number of years when Bassier traveled from the mainland to Robben Island where he met regularly with prisoners to offer them Islamic guidance. When Mandela walked free in 1990, he visited his friend, who writes about their bond in his book.

Bassier served as imam, or spiritual leader, at the Boorhaanol Islam mosque in Longmarket Street, Bo-Kaap. He penned his autobiography shortly before his death, completing it in 2001. He died in 2004.

Its title is ‘Born to Serve’ and his five children have through the Boorhaanol Islam Movement finally published the autobiography.

Cover of the autobiography, Born to Serve. Picture Supplied

Cover of the autobiography, Born to Serve. Picture Supplied

Born to Serve launched at Timbuktu bookshop in Claremont at the end of June, with friends and family reminiscing about Bassier’s contribution to society.

His granddaughter Khadeeja Bassier read the book and got to know her grandfather as a “confidant, negotiator and family man”.

“We live in a time when clergy and leadership are separated from ordinary people. He was an ordinary man who lived with the same challenges we live with,” she said.

“He was true to himself. He had struggles and weighed up the options of being an imam and how he would provide for his family. And he was the type of man who brought us organic spinach long before the term organic was popular.”

Muhammad West, presently walking in Bassier’s footsteps in Longmarket Street, said he had “never met the imam but thought he must have been an amazing orator”.

“He was able to unite people. And he was liked by children and prisoners,” reflected West.

Bassier’s anecdotes and reflections reveal a man who enjoyed spending time in nature and who also grappled with the realities of leading a community.

He writes in the book about his routine after Fajr, a prayer that Muslims are meant to perform daily before sunrise.

“I would leave the masjid after Fajr and walk up the hill to the noon gun via the Tana Baru Cemetery, then on to the saddle and at times, on to the top of Lion’s Head,” he writes.

“Sometimes, I would trot down through the Glen to take a dip in the sea at Fourth Beach and return home by bus to prepare for work. Some of my friends thought I was crazy, but I enjoyed every bit of it.”

Bassier’s book details also how he became an imam.

“Although I was always interested in religious affairs, I never had any aspirations of becoming an Imam. I was merely deputising for my dear father. I was also rather revolutionary in the aspects of our religious customs and practices,” he writes.

“I now realised I was at a crossroads. Being the son of an imam, I knew the pitfalls of the position, so I begged them to give me some time to consider their request. With tears in their eyes they reminded me that the election would be held in seven days’ time, which meant I had little time to ponder.”

Later on, Bassier had to lead a larger congregation: the Western Cape’s Muslim community via the MJC. The latter is an authority that governs the affairs of Muslim public life and its members are imams that offer guidance on personal matters.

“I was approached by some members of the MJC to stand as the chairman. I was very hesitant to accept nomination because, in my own opinion, I was the least learned of them all,” writes Bassier.

“But, having consulted the constitution of the MJC on the duties of the chairman, I agreed to be nominated. It was at a special meeting of the MJC held at the Azzavia (Mosque) in 1979 that I was elected as the chairman of the MJC.”

On meeting Mandela, Bassier writes: “He really captivated me. He appeared to have the image of a very dignified man, upright in stature with a well-built physique and a charming personality.”

Born to Serve is sold for R150 and comes with a collection of Qur’anic stories on CD, a practical guide to Islam and Boeka Treats which a cook book on how to prepare treats for Ramadaan.

For more information contact 021-424-1864 or visit http://www.boekatreats.com.

PHOTOS: Protest support for Gaza on Al Quds Day

For the last 35 years, on the last Friday of Ramadaan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast), people worldwide have gathered to protest against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. This was in Cape Town today. (All photos by Yazeed Kamaldien)

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South Africans demand government cut ties with Israel

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Calls for the South African government to cut ties with Israel were repeated when thousands of protesters gathered in front of Parliament yesterday.

The annual Quds Day protest, organsied locally by the local Islamic Unity Convention (IUC), attracted 10,000 people, according to police monitoring the event.

IUC chairman Achmad Cassiem handed a memorandum to the department of international relations and cooperation. It demanded that Israeli ambassador Arthur Lenk be expelled from South Africa, and the South African ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngomane, be recalled.

The department’s parliamentary liason officer, Seraki Matsebe, signed and received the memorandum.

It read: “There can be no normal relations and cooperation with a racist entity. Racism is terrorism.”

Cassiem told the gathering: “Zionism is racism and therefore a crime against humanity. It is worse than apartheid.”

Protesters comprised a range of voices: refugees, school learners, Muslims, Christians and even a few Germans.

Suber Noor from Somalia, who has lived in Cape Town for 15 years, walked alongside his compatriots. He wanted the Israeli military to “realise they are killing humans, who are like them”.

“They are killing innocent children. But Israel won’t be killing our brothers and sisters forever. One day Palestine will be free,” said Noor.

He added: “Palestinians are our Muslim brothers and sisters. When someone kills a Muslim, we all feel the pain.”

Learners from Trafalgar High School, located on Roeland Street near Parliament, also participated in the protest.

Murphy Ngaga, 16, said they “wanted to show our school is against the killing of Palestinian children”.

“I watched the news at home and it was heartbreaking to see children killed. I’m marching to stop what’s going on,” said Ngaga.

His classmate Ru-eeza Hendricks, 16, added: “What Israel is doing is wrong”.

“It’s really sad and it affects us all. We want all the violence, bombings and killings to stop.”

Zainulabideen van der Schyff, a member of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, said they had been to “every single (Gaza related) protest over the last two weeks” in the city.

“I’m here for justice. We are compelled to support the oppressed.. Our party’s policy towards Israel is that it does have the legitimacy to exist,” he said.

Protesters carried placards calling for boycotts against Pick n Pay and Coca-Cola, companies they allegedly support Israel financially. They chanted: “Death to America”. One T-shirt read: “It’s not about religion. It’s about humanity.”

The protest started in Kaizergracht Street in District Six, went down Darling, on to Adderley, Bureau, Plein and finally stopped in front of Parliament buildings.

Quds Day is a global event started 35 years ago. It is held on the last Friday of Ramadaan, the Islamic month of fasting, and gathers protesters in support of Palestinians.

Glimpses of Tutu’s life in new photo show

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Archbishop Desmond Tutu must be one of the busiest octogenarians in the country, with his life well documented and every word uttered in public life scrutinised.

A new photographic exhibition, #TUTU, intends to frieze a few moments from his busy schedule, prayer and personal time.

Picture by Sumaya Hisham

Picture by Sumaya Hisham

#TUTU opens next month at the St George’s Cathedral where the celebrated human rights activist offers church services on Fridays.

The exhibition comprises views from the lense of local freelance photojournalist Sumaya Hisham. It is part of a range of events held in relation to Women’s Day next month.

Hisham has been documenting Tutu’s public life for almost five years. As a photojournalist she has reported for international news agencies on his activities.

Picture by Sumaya Hisham

Picture by Sumaya Hisham

Hisham recently spent three weeks “shadowing” Tutu to capture more intimate moments, away from all the other cameras. But that was not an easy task, she says.

“I spent a couple of weeks photographing him at his house and at various events… I just wondered when he ever takes a rest. He’s 82 years old and goes from one event to the next,” says Hisham.

“On Friday morning he did a church service, then he went to the Clocktower (to read for children on Mandela Day) and then had two more events. That evening he had to leave for the United States.”

Her portrayal of Tutu is presented in three parts: “a man at prayer, at man at work, a man at rest”.

Picture by Sumaya Hisham

Picture by Sumaya Hisham

“Prayer is where it all started for him, before he became an activist. I photographed the archbishop in the (St George’s) Cathedral. He has a service most Friday mornings and calls that his quiet time,” says Hisham.

“He has a ritual when he comes into the Cathedral. He will do the prayer service and meet with the congregation. He then walks over to a coffee shop and has coffee with whoever else is there.”

Tutu’s schedule meant Hisham was never left wanting for images that focused on the man at work. But she was also able to notice when he was really wearing his work face and when he was just being himself.

“He shows us a lot of what he wants us to see. He has a persona that he shows and we see in public. Sometimes you would notice that we tend to get that little bit of him coming through,” says Hisham.

Her hopes for building a more personal body of work was hindered by Tutu’s busy schedule, says Hisham.

“I was hoping for a lot more quiet time but that wasn’t possible. We had only three weeks and he was very busy. I went to his house but didn’t really get private time,” she says.

“He is just swamped with people all the time. Getting any private time with him is incredibly difficult. He did allow me into his dressing area in the Cathedral, where he prays. That was his quiet time.”

She adds: “In private, he’s just an everyday person. He spends time with his wife, plays with his grandchildren and reads.”

Hisham says shadowing Tutu “didn’t feel like work” at all.

“It was amazing to be around him. He has an aura and you can feel this piety in him. He is such a humble person. It was a privilege to be allowed into his space,” she says.

Hisham’s photos are mostly in colour, with some black and white images too.

“I felt his vibrancy and energy just seemed to translate better in colour,” she says.

She adds: “He has the most amazing sense of humour. He sees the light side in everything. He tends to joke a lot. I was laughing so much. And he has such an infectious laugh.

“He can go from speaking about a huge tragedy, to lightening a moment in seconds to bring stability to people he is with. If people just listen carefully they will see that the laughter is sometimes more of a buffer to bring more serious issues forward.”

Tutu is depicted very much as a people’s person, well loved and able to make almost anybody feel comfortable around him. And therein might be the secret that keeps him going.

Offers Hisham: “Maybe that’s where he gets his energy from. I think he thrives on the love that people have for him and he gives that back to them. He just enjoys interaction with people. I think that drives him.”

#TUTU is supported by UCT’s Centre for Curating the Archive and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

Hisham’s photos will be sold to raise funds to fix the roof of the St George’s Cathedral and also to assist the work of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

The exhibition opens to the public on August 5 at 4pm, with Tutu in attendance.

AgangSA factions have eyes on the money

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

AgangSA’s newly-proclaimed leaders yesterday said they would “take action” to find out how their former leader Mamphela Ramphele spent R30-million she received as donations.

Ramphele founded the party last year, won just under 53,000 votes in the May 7 election, but quit the party on July 8. This led to other resignations on Friday, said the financially troubled party’s former spokesman Philip Machanick.

Its two MPs Mike Tshishoga and Andries Tlouamma yesterday dismissed the resignations as insignificant.

Tshishoga is the party’s interim president and said they planned to uncover how Ramphele spent the R30-million.

“We are going to investigate that. Where did it go to? We didn’t see it. We campaigned (before elections) and used our own money,” said Tshishoga.

Machanik confirmed Ramphele “raised R30-million in cash donations based purely on her own good name”. He also alleged that Tshishoga’s faction “appear to have access to unlimited funds from an unknown source”.

“It remains to be seen whether those financial resources will be employed to honour AgangSA’s obligations to its long-suffering creditors,” he said.

It was reported earlier this month that AgangSA has R12-million debt. Tshishoga could not confirm how they would pay the debt but dismissed Machanik’s claims.

“That’s insanity. We don’t have unlimited funds. From where? It’s rumour,” he said.

Tlouamma said Friday’s resignations were by party members who were loyal to Ramphele, “but had no support”.

“She appointed them. They lost and chose to resign. We don’t have a problem with that. But usually if you lose, you don’t resign. You are supposed to sit with us and you don’t run away,” he said.

Machanik also claimed AgangSA was “dead”, but Tlouamma retorted: “We are alive. We still have representatives in Parliament”.

Tshishoga added: “When we joined this party, we didn’t join because of another human being. If they are saying the party is dead because Ramphela is not the leader then they did not get the right message. It is foolish to drop out.

“There was a value that we aspired to. Those values still exist. The public still hopes that there will be a party that will do something about corruption which has become a culture in our country.”

Ramphele’s supporters are meanwhile encouraging other members to also resign. Machanik issued a statement from this faction on Friday.

It was sent out to “encourage likeminded members of the party to also resign and join us in a new civic initiative details of which will be announced in due course.”

Mandela Day: Cape Town pours its heart out

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

If deceased icon Nelson Mandela could see what South Africans were up to yesterday he would in all likelihood be smiling.

That’s what his long-time friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu said yesterday, after dedicating his 67 minutes to reading for children at the V&A Waterfront.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu reads to children at the V&A Waterfront on Mandela Day. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Archbishop Desmond Tutu reads to children at the V&A Waterfront on Mandela Day. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Sixty-seven is a symbolic amount of time that one can spend for a good cause on Mandela Day. The latter was marked by acts of kindness countrywide yesterday.

Tutu said: “Mandela is looking down and he’s seeing all of this and he’s smiling.”

Asked why he dedicated his time to read a book – about Mandela – to children, he said: “Mandela loved, loved children.”

Tutu and his daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu partnered with Breadline Africa yesterday to treat children from the Masande Educare Centre in Khayelitsha. Breadline handed over three containers to Ntombentsha Sobekwa who has run the educare in a shack since 2009.

“The containers will be helpful as the children will now be in a safe place,” said Sobekwa.

It was the first time that she met Tutu. She said he, like Mandela, “gave us hope during the Struggle that one day we will be free”.

Mayor Patricia de Lille served tea and cake to pensioners at Alexandra Cottages in Maitland. This home for the aged is run by the City of Cape Town and houses 21 residents. De Lille also donated walking sticks and wheelchairs to the elderly residents.

Cape Town's Mayor Patricia de Lille spent time with pensioners at Alexandra Cottages in Maitland. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Cape Town’s Mayor Patricia de Lille spent time with pensioners at Alexandra Cottages in Maitland. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

She said: “The elderly in our community is very important. Getting old can be very lonely. We should be looking after them all the time. I will come out again to greet them.”

“It was nice for me to serve them and make tea and coffee for them. It’s a way to say thank you for the beautiful country they built for us.”

Resident Elsie Dilma, 86, has lived at Alexandra for years and said she needed the wheelchair. She has lived at Alexandra for 22 years. It was the first time that they celebrated Mandela Day.

“Today was very nice. We appreciate it. There are many people who don’t have the privilege that was have,” she said.

Feeding the city’s less-privileged folk was among the popular Mandela Day initiatives yesterday. Athlone-based non-profit Mustadafin Foundation partnered with Pick n Pay to cook stew and rice for 6007 people in various Cape Flats areas and townships.

Volunteers spent the morning chopping vegetables and by midday pots of food were nearly done.

Ebrahim Smith, disaster coordinator for Mustadafin, said they “have the same objectives of Madiba so we want to continue his legacy”.

“We don’t want anybody to go to sleep hungry because that is an oppression,” said Smith.

In Khayelitsha, Christina Kaba received groceries that listeners of local radio station KFM donated yesterday morning. Kaba runs a vegetable garden and soup kitchen that feeds children and ill persons.

Kaba cried when KFM presenters started unpacking food in her kitchen to be distributed to locals in need.

“They make me cry. I always do all of this on my own and try to help people. But today I see there’s a hand that can help. Mandela said people should stand together to build our country. That’s what I’m trying to do,” she said.

John Jeffery, deputy minister for justice and constitutional development, meanwhile painted pink the holding cell for women at the Caledon Square police station on Buitenkant Street.

Jeffery said staffers in the department’s Western Cape office also cleaned local courtrooms.

“It’s important to show leadership, to show people in the department that one is also prepared to work,” he said.

Knitting meanwhile kept Nthabiseng Ntsondwa busy at the Mandela Rhodes hotel on Wale Street. She and other volunteers knitted parts of blankets for the Little Fighters Cancer Trust. The latter assists children with cancer and their families.

Ntsondwa said: “Mandela brought people together. As much as South Africa is a Rainbow Nation, we have many cracks. The fact that we can come together is great way of healing.”