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ACHMAT THE EDUCATOR with a social conscience

Early in his career as a social worker, Achmat combined the roles of social worker and educator… and was fond of reminding his students: “You cannot be an educator without a social conscience.”
Hence in his first job at Kupungani, (1965-7) the young social worker emerged as a Health Educator.


•    As social worker (Director of Social Services) at the Muslim Assembly (1967-80) he formulated guidelines and comprehensive programmes for organizing, implementing and maintaining crèches in the community.
•    As Organiser of the Boorhaanol Recreational Movement, he initiated various empowerment programmes and classes in the Bokaap which catered for all groups.
•    He co-founded the Grassroots EducareTrust in 1972 and as Chairperson motivated and contributed to the publication of guidelines for educare centers – currently used throughout South Africa.
•    In 1970 while working as a social worker at the Muslim Assembly, he suspected that, because of the poor living conditions on the Cape Flats, the drop-out rate in the primary school had to be quite large – this he confirmed in a survey and replicated the survey for the Bo-Kaap in 1974.
•    Between 1970 and 1980 Achmat spent much time promoting the cause of the pre-school child in numerous addresses and was invited to serve on the following specialized boards.
o    Vice-Chairman, Western Cape Association for Early Childhood Education (1978-84)
o    Vice Chairman/Member of Board of Management Sallie Davies Training College for Pre-primary Teachers (1983-87).
•    As a follow-up to his drop-out Project (1970-4), he organized a conference on behalf of the Muslim Assembly on the theme of A Programme for Social Upliftment for the Cape Flats Communities (1974), “Preparation for Social Change”
•    At heart Achmat was a teacher and spent endless hours.
o    Telling stories to little children of his crèches (Boorhaanol and Muslim Assembly)
o    Lecturing part-time – Sociology and Social Care Nico Malan Nursing College, Athlone, cape (1976-80)
o    Teaching Adult classes – Masjidul Quds – Cultural History of the Muslim Community (1994)
o    Lecturing part-time – Teacher Education – Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA) 1996-7

ACHMAT THE FATHER with a heart of the community

Achmat hails from a large family of TEN children and although he did not have biological children, he regarded the children of his extended family as his own.

•    His home at 203 Longmarket Street was often home to the homeless, including many street children and “bergies”.
•    He was fondly called “Apatjie” by many of his extended household – a recognition of his fatherly role.
•    Maulana Dr Farid Essack was one of his better known children who lived in his home for more than a year.
•    In 1996 Achmat and Imam Abdurahmaan Bassier expressed their concern for numerous gangs forming on the street corners of Bo-Kaap. The organized youth activities in the Local Stars Hall and invited the youth to participate.
•    In 1996 Achmat established the Boorhaanol Nursery School – every child became his child.
•    He tutored countless post-graduate research students and referred to the criticism of their work as chastisement – pak gegee – like a typical father.
•    Father-figure reflected in his role as social historian: he brought the heroes back to life and spoke with tenderness of their contributions.
•    On the day of his burial scores of messages addressed him as the father of the organizations he helped to establish or nurtured in their early years.
•    An expert on local cuisine, he enjoyed cooking for his family.
•    No visit to the Bo-Kaap by overseas scholars on cultural history would be complete without a visit to the home of the Father of the cultural history of the Cape, Achmat Davids.
•    In rediscovering the roots of the Muslims of the Cape, Achmat Davids earned himself the respected title of father of the new Muslin community of the Cape

What the community feel at losing a father:
“…he has come to enrich our lives in the most beautiful of ways…”
(K Rousseau: Beitun-Nur, Society for the Destitute, 16/9/98)

“he encouraged us as young leaders of the community to say what we believed in…he was always there when we needed advice… his characteristic voice and laughter still echo in our minds.”
(National General Secretary: Muslim Youth Movement)

“It is a sad day for us here at Grassroots Educare Trust today…It is a result of his guidance and vision that Grassroots is one of the largest educare organizations in this country today.”
(Grassroots: Board of Trustees – 16/9/98)

“Dr Davids sal onthou word as n kultuurmens … wie se nagedagtenis sal bly voortleef in dit wat hy gedurende n lewe van diens aan sy medemens gedoen en bereik het.”
(G.S. Hofmeyer, Director: National Monuments Council – 16/9/98)

“Achmat was a wonderful person, I only know him just on the radio, but he was part of me and my children, Algamdoelillaa.”
(Gamieda, 16/9/1998)

“His death is a tragic loss to the community and the whole of South Africa…”
(Theresa Daniels: Maryland Literacy Programme, 16/9/1998)

“Achamt Davids contributed indelibly to the future and progress of his country, and to the great cause of faith on which he so unwaveringly took his stand.”
(Prof. Kader Asmal: Minister of Water Affairs & Forestry, 16/9/1998)

ACHMAT THE ORGANISER loved a challenge

As a rule Achmat Davids never refused an invitation to assist a new organisation – he loved the challenge to organize and help put his new family on the road.
He knew his way around a meeting and would be guided by democratic principles when others would be blindly rooted in prejudice. He was a conciliator first and foremost, and confrontation was never his cup of tea, although he did over the years have to tackle some thorny issues. His strength was that he could serve causes and committees without the baggage of ideological prejudice…
He founded or co-founded scores of community organizations: from social agencies to educare centers, some of which are listed below:

1972 – 1980
Chairman/Founder Member Grassroots Educare Trust

1972 – 1973
Executive Member, Cape Peninsula Child Welfare Society
1972 – 1992
Founder/Executive Member Schotsche Kloof Civic Association

1972 – 1974
Founder/Executive Member/Chairman of the Social Action Committee –
Metropolitan Action for Citizens
Participation in Civics Affairs

1973 – 1975
Treasurer/Founder Member Build a Better Society (BABS) (A Mobil sponsored Community Development Project in Kewtown, Athlone)

1976 – 1978
Trustee Foundation for Social Development – University of the Western Cape

1974 – 1975
Founder/Member of Management Committee Goodwill Centre for Mentally Retarded Children

1974 – Death
Vice Chairman/Member of Management Committee, Mosque Boorhaanol Islam

1977 – 1980
Executive Member Community Chest, Cape Town – Allocations Committee

1979 – 1980
Member of the Board of Patrons Institute of Criminology – University of Cape Town

1974 – Death
Member of the Board of Directors Centre for Intergroup Studies– University of Cape Town

1979 – Death
Founder Member Institute of Arabic and Islamic Research

1977 – 1980
Member/Advisor on Social Welfare Issues Muslim Judicial Council

1980 – Death
Executive Committee Member Cape Board for Prison Welfare and State Institutions

1983 – 1987
Vice-Chairman/Member of Board of Management Sallie Davies Training College for Pre-primary Teachers

1978 – 1984
Vice-Chairman, Western Cape Association for Early Childhood Education

1982 – Death
Executive Committee Member, Committee for the Preservation of the Tana Baru

1983 – 1985
Executive Member, Association for Preschool Education, training and Care (ASPECT)

1990 – Death
National Executive Committee Member
National coordinating Council for Muslim Prison Welfare and State Institutions

1990 – Death
Member, Bokaap Trust (National Monuments Council)

1993 – Death
Member of the Board of Directors Stigting vir Afrikaans – Die Vriendelike Taal

1986 – Death
Executive Committee Member Muslim Assembly (Cape)

1985 – Death
Member of the Board of Directors Grassroots Educare Trust

1988 – Death
Member Cape Town Heritage Trust

1996 – Death
Appointed by the Minister as a member of The National Monuments Council

1996 – Death
Nominated as a director of Die Woordeboek van Afrikaans Taal.

1996 – Death
Chairman/coordinating, Environmental Mazaar Action Committee (EMAC)

His organizational skills and leadership style no more clearly portrayed than:

•    As Chairperson / Co-ordinator of the Sheikh Yusuf Tricentenary Commemoration (SYTCC) 1993 – 1994 – mobilizing the entire Muslim Community of South Africa to participate in the festivities in 1994.
•    As the Organiser of the Boorhaanol Islam Movement for over 30 years he set up numerous community projects, including the establishment of the nursery school and editing the Boorhaanol Newsletter/Magazine.

ACHMAT THE BROADCASTER the voice of the people

Since the inception of the Voice of the Cape, Achmat’s versatility as organizer and particularly as researcher helped keep the struggling young Radio Station on the air, and later as Station Manager saw it emerged as the top community radio station in South Africa. He showed people that there was nothing wrong in being yourself, warts and all. If, as a communicator, you were honest about yourself, others would respond. Administratively, he had a unique understanding of the needs of policy, community and the IBA. He also cared deeply for the staff during his period of interim station manager and as a result, morale was at an all-time high.
As broadcaster Achmat served as
Researcher – Programmer – Presenter – Administrator – Station Manager

As Programme Manager Achmat formulated a language policy for the Voice of the Cape and Voice of the Boland/ voice of Paarl which other radio stations began to emulate: Let the people’s language be heard. This helped develop spontaneity in phone-in programmes as well as talk shows.

Open-door policy: Listen to the other side. This was often the cause of much criticism from certain sectors of the community, particularly relating to news broadcasts.

VOC Restructuring: Achmat represented the VOC at the Independent Broadcasting Authority Hearings and presented a case for a radio station for the people of the Boland…and succeeded. He is commonly regarded as the Father of the voice of the Boland!

Community Orientation: He felt that the community had right to know and appreciate its cultural heritage and encouraged his presenters to play the music of the people even if some of the so-called enlightened detractors objected. He personally hosted talk shows on the cultural history of the community.

Liaison with other radio stations:  As a respected broadcaster, he was invited to and appeared on other radio/TV stations. He honoured such an invitation on the day of his death

”….never disdainful of the ordinary person, and avoiding the madness of linguistic purity, he spoke the language of the ordinary people…it was his language.”
(Cape Argus, 17th Sept. 1998)

“In the world of broadcasting where there is a shortage of people prepared to make sacrifices for the cause, his absence will be sorely missed.”
(Leslie McKenzie: Fine Music Radio -21/9/98)

ACHMAT THE HISTORAIN the father of Cape Muslim History

Achmat Davids believed that history belongs in the kitchens of the families rather than packaged on the august shelves of libraries.

He wrote FOUR major works:
•    Mosques of the Bo-Kaap (1980),
•    The History of the Tana Baru (1985),
•    Pages from Cape Muslim History (1994 – co-editor) and
•    Slaves, Sheikhs, Sultans and Saints (1995 – in the process of publication)

The mosques of the Bo-Kaap is by far his best known book, and popularised the history of the Cape Muslims.

Academics acclaim his efforts:
“For the Muslims he provided temporal depth and historical character to their belonging in South Africa, while scholars will remain indebted to his authentic and magnificent contribution.”
“All of us are indebted to the ground-breaking archival work that Achmat Davids undertook and he may rightly be described as the father of Cape Muslim History.”
(Shamil Jeppie & Robert C.H. Shell)

It can be assumed that hundreds of thousands heard his story the medium of:

•    His own talk shows on the radio
•    The madaris which used his books for local history
•    Mosques through public lectures
•    Public schools which used his works for local history
•    Academic papers / lectures.

Achmat wrote over 40 historical publications on the cultural history of the community of the Cape. In his earlier years his papers had a distinctly social welfare flavour as he explored the problems of the local community. After 1977 he made contact with the Cape archives and he wrote with a passion as he journeyed through the alleys of old Cape Town.

The following are some of his historical publications:
•    1977 “The Early Cape Muslims, 1652-1800” in ‘Iqraa research Journal Volume I, Muslim Students Association, University of Cape Town
•    Foreword to The Early Cape Muslims by FR Bradlow and M Cairns, Balkema, Cape Town
•    The Mosques of Bo-Kaap – A social History of Islam at the Cape, South African Institute of Arabic and Islamic Research, Athlone
•    “Politics and the Muslims of Cape Town – A Historical Survey” in Studies in the History of Cape Town Volume 4, edited by C Suanders et al. African Studies/History University of Cape Town
•    “The Muslims in South Africa” in South African Outlook, October, 1982
•    1983 ‘The Revolt of the Malays’ – A Study of the Cape Muslim Reaction to the Nineteenth Century Smallpox Epidemics” in  Studies in the History of Cape Town Volume 5, edited by C Saunders et al. African Studies/History University of Cape Town
•    The History of the Tana Baru: The case for the Preservation of the Muslim Cemetery at the top of Longmarket Street Published: Tana Baru Preservation Committee.

Joined Jul 14, 2006 Messages 91 Likes Received 0 Toshiba DP5570 Controller KR-7016/GA-1060 (PSL) 1.11 Trophy Points 16 Ok, so I have an unusual issue.

Cape Town
•    1985 “From Complacency to Activism the changing political mood of the Cape Muslim Community from 1940 to 1985”Paper delivered at the History of Cape Town Workshop, University of Cape Town (unpublished)
•    “My Religion is Superior to the Law” – The Survival of Islam at the Cape of Goodhope” in KRONOS, 1987 – Institute of Historical Research, University of the Western Cape
•    1991”Urban Conservation and Regeneration: The Case of Bo-Kaap” in Papers of a Symposium on Urban Conservation, edited by D and V Jepha, SA Institute of Architects
•    “Muslim-Christian relations in Nineteenth Century Cape Town 1825 – 1925” in KRONOS No 19, Journal of the Institute of Historical Research, University of the Western Cape
•    1992 “Bagels and Koeksusters – A view of the cultural history of District Six” SARP, Yale University, United States of America
•    1994 Pages from Cape Muslim History, Published by shooter and Shutter, Cape Town – co-editor with Dr Y Da Costa
•    1994 “The Indonesian Contribution to the Early History of Islam at the Cape” a  paper delivered at a symposium on ‘Sheikh Yusuf of Macassar – 300 Years of Islam at the Cape’ in Jakarta, Indonesia
•    “The Imams in Nineteenth Century Cape Town – dealing with Conflict” a paper Islam and Civil Society, a symposium at the University of South Africa, Pretoria – Published in KRONOS, 1995
•    1995 Slaves, Sheikhs, Sultans and Saints – A book in the process of Publication

ACHMAT THE LINGUIST reclaimed the language of our people

For a non-white in the Apartheid era to lay claim for his people to the founding of Afrikaans – the mother tongue of the oppressors was downright blasphemous. Achmat ended the debate (who developed Afrikaans) with a passion and spiritual fortitude and caused major tremors in certain quarters. He made his claim with copious proof on national television, at international conferences, in South Africa and Europe and he was heard and read by academics and lay persons alike. His dissertation is the community’s magnus opus, its claim to founder of the Afrikaans language.

In the latter part of his life (1992 – 1998) Achmat focused increasingly on the linguistic of culture… to trace the community’s roots in its language… and he succeeded admirably.

In his Master’s dissertation he pays tribute to his friend and Imam, Imam Abdurahmaan Bassier: “…he was virtually daily at hand to solve my major problems…my sincere thanks to him for…nagging me to get on with it…”

He delivered academic papers in linguistics in U.S., Belgium and Indonesia.

Some of his published papers include:

1992 “Muslim-Christian Relations in Nineteenth Century Cape Town 1825 – 1925” in KRONOS No 19, Journal of the Institute of Historical Research, University of the Western Cape.

1993 “Discovering the Hidden Transcript: The Arabic Islamic Roots of the Afrikaans Language: Center for Middle-Eastern Studies, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.

1993 “The Future of Afrikaans in a New South Africa” SARP, Yale University, united States of America
1993 “The Arabic-Afrikaans Publications and its implication for the history of Afrikaans Literature” SARP, Yale University, United States of America.

1994 “Afrikaans – die produk van akkulturasie” in Nuwe Perspektiewe op die geskiedenis van Afrikaans Opgedra aan Edith H Raidt eds. Gerrit Olivier en Anna Coetzee, Southern Boekuitgewers
“Nationalism in the making of Afrikaans” paper at conference on “Language and Nation building in Europe”, European Economic Community, KLV, Leyden, Belgium.
“Arabic-Afrikaans: a contribution to the Encyclopedia of Islam to be published by EJ Brill, Leiden, Holland

1996 – Nominated as a director of Die Woordeboek van Afrikaans Taal.

ACHMAT THE ACADEMIC who transcended the stiff and stifling academy

Achmat Davids deregulated the academy. Rising from the ranks of social worker to social worker to social anthropologist, to educationist, to cultural historian, to linguist … he refused to be contained by the schools, structures or paradigms peculiar to these disciplines…he brought to each an academic effervescence through his numerous publications.

Meaningful contribution rather than personal achievement: this he demonstrated by his endless hours of painstaking research even to detriment of his personal state of health.

He wrote what he believed and his beliefs inspired him to defend his research even against academic giants…and he emerged triumphant.

He refused to be drawn into idle discourse and in every talk, every paper he delivered he had a positive message for humanity – even if, through his honest forthrightness he appeared controversial.

Achmat is regarded as the leading authority on South African Muslim culture and history, and acknowledged both internally and nationally as an expert on the genesis of the Afrikaans language.

He presented papers at International Conferences in the United States, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malaysia and Indonesia; and has published at least 46 papers both locally and internationally.

Despite his jovial, affable manner, colleagues and his students alike often tasted his hard, uncompromising and thoroughly scholarly academic arguments.

Criticism of a colleague’s or student’s efforts was to Achmat nothing more than an act of chastisement…”Ek het hom pakgegee..” An inaccurate, unsubstantiated statement was tantamount to an ethical misdemeanor – a lie.

The world acknowledged his academic contribution:

Diploma in Social Science (UCT)

Fellow of the International Programs of Social Workers and Youth Leaders – Ohio State of University (USA)

Master of Arts (cum laude) – Thesis subject: The Afrikaans of the Cape Muslims from 1815 to 1915 – a Socio-Linguistic Study – University of Natal (Durban)

Fellow of the Southern African Research Center – Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (USA)

Fellow, Tumbrill College, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (USA)

PhD – Syekh Yusuf Islamic University – Tangerang, Indonesia, 1994 – in appreciation of his research on Cape Muslim history.

Every single scholar who wishes to say anything about Muslims in South Africa will continue to take Davids as his/her starting point for many years to come. Such is his contribution – a truly worthy sad-qatuj-jaaria!


Comments (2)
Achmat Davids - Slaves, Sultans and Saints
2 Saturday, 10 April 2010 09:31
Mogamat Kamedien
Agree heartily, have been awaiting the publication of the last manuscript of al-marghum Achmat Davids since 1995 in book form as Slaves, Sultans and Saints. When will this book in the process of publication going see the light. What is the hold up - lack of funds.

According to the 'urban grapevine' it is rumoured that the Afrikaans language master's thesis of Achmat Davids may appear in book form by one of the univesity press houses.
Achmat Davids
1 Wednesday, 17 March 2010 10:59
Kassiem Slamang
A well-prepared piece on his work and effort. One , probably a typo, the Boorhaanol nursary school was founded in the 70's (not in 1996).
He did complete his fard hajj and was married for a while.
He was well assisted by family members and friends in many and various aspects of his research, and he probably liked a good argument more than most.
I am very interested to know about his incomplete work due for publication.
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