Monday, 11 December 2017
 

Dr Muhammed Haron

Dr Muhammed Haron is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Botswana.

Haron previously helped found the Department of Arabic Studies at the University of the Western Cape and served as its chair from 1984-95; he has been a visiting lecturer across South Africa and Malaysia. He has received several academic awards, including the Prestigious Scholarship Award in 1992/3 from the Human Science Research Council. In addition to numerous articles, he has also published First Steps in Arabic Grammar and The Dynamics of Christian-Muslim Relations in South Africa (circa 1960-2000) (2006).

Haron earned bachelor's degrees from the Universities of Durban Westville and South Africa, bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Cape Town, a master's level degree from the Free University of Amsterdam, and a PhD from Rhodes University.


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Muhammed Haron

Muhammed Haron

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    One of the Cape’s unsung heroes

    Published on Tuesday, 13 September 2011

     

    by Dr Muhammed Haron

    WRITING a short or a detailed piece about someone who is still very much alive and still making invaluable inputs to our society is a difficult task.

    In this restricted piece I reflect briefly upon Dr Sedick Isaacs, a former political prisoner of conscience about whom not much has been written but who has made a priceless contribution to the struggle as a committed Muslim individual.

    I, my sister, her son and my youngest son are among a fortunate few given a personal guided tour of Robben Island on Sunday, February 27, 2011; my second visit to this historical place.

    This was a memorable visit because I was given an insight into the life of this island by Sedick Isaacs who had been incarcerated for a long time because of his commitment to bringing about social justice in South Africa.

    Prior to the visit I had managed to complete my reading of his Surviving in the Apartheid Prison: Flash Backs of an Earlier Life (London: Xlibris 2010).

    Armed with the information that he narrated in very revealing and simple style, I was somewhat ‘equipped’ for this important trip.

    Apart from this publication, he also successfully produced an informative and inspiring documentary ‘More than Just a Game’ (Videovision Entertainment Production 2010) that tells us about how the political prisoners got involved in ‘Sport and Recreation’ that were organised as part of the prisoners’ survival strategy on the Island.

    Everyone who knows Isaacs personally will generally agree that he comes across as a soft-spoken and unpretentious person. To put it simply, he is a humble person and an introvert.

    He belongs to a coterie of individuals who prefer operating quietly behind the scenes and wishes to remain anonymous.

    When one reads his book, it becomes quite obvious that in spite of anonymity he seemed to have ‘touched … the lives of almost every Robben Island prisoner…’ (p. 9) This says a great deal about someone who opts to be out of the public eye.

    Although he tried to steer clear of writing and talking about his painful life on the Island, he was persuaded by some close friends to do so and consequently wrote it with much difficulty.

    Anyone who has read it will observe that the story follows a fairly clinical approach.

    The book documents the years before he was imprisoned on the Island until after his release; much of it, however, reflects upon his life on the Island.

    He, for example, informed us how he was caught with his co-conspirators (Abdurahman [Marnie] Abrahams, Achmat Cassiem and Suleiman [Solly] Keraan), how he was politically awakened through the intellectual programmes of the Teachers League of South Africa and the Unity Movement, and how he – as a pragmatist – was inspired by the PAC’s (Pan Africanist Congress) activities in Cape Town.

    In the book he recorded the painful ordeal he was exposed to at the hands of apartheid’s notorious Security Branch (SB) while at Caledon Square, before being taken to Robben Island.

    From the time we boarded the boat that took us to the ‘Devil’s Island’, I asked him some of the questions to which I was unable to find answers in the book. This conversation revealed that he had much more to share than was catalogued in the book.

    When we came to the main entrance of ‘the prison’ (now a heritage site), he vividly described to us how things operated on the Island from the moment one became a political inmate.

    Isaacs, from the minute he landed there, had made mental notes and examined his confined environment very carefully with the hope of one day escaping from it.

    On our trip he showed us where the hospital was and how they were treated as patients. He then took us to the cell where he was held in ‘solitary confinement’ on many occasions for some of his acts.

    While many of us intensely listened to the manner in which he spoke about his prison life, we could faintly sense the suffering and trauma that he – and many others – had experienced.

    On our way to the cell where he was kept with, among others, Stanley Magoba and Indres Naidoo, he filled us in on how they generally spent their time and what they were forced to do.

    When we all sat in the reasonably large communal cell where many political inmates were housed, he analytically and humorously described his experiences in the yard and the quarry, respectively.

    As is evident from the book, he stressed the fact that in the communal cell a strong bond of brotherhood was formed among them all; it was a place where they literally cared for one another since nothing was private or public.

    Isaacs related the story about Sambotla who acted as his (self-appointed) mentor during the first year on the Island. Sadly, the latter was hanged by the apartheid authorities for his political ‘crimes’ (p. 104).

    And he shed light on how ANC and PAC members, who did not agree on political strategies and issues, gradually matured and graciously accepted one another’s ideological differences.

    Isaacs mentioned the long list of complaints that did not conform to the prison regulations and that resulted in the ‘Prison Protest’ in the form of a ‘hunger strike’.

    Since Isaacs, along with Stanley Magoba, was accused of having instigated this and for having written the letter that they tried to smuggle out for public consumption, he was placed in solitary confinement for three months.

     

    Isaacs confessed that though he attempted to give ‘structure’ to his life while in confinement, the strategies that he worked out did not succeed, which resulted in severe states of depression and pain.

    Despite this, he still conquered the system through seeking ways of communicating with others who were also confined.

    An interesting fact that does not appear in the book is that Isaacs memorised the respective translations of the Bible and the Qur’an.

    The mere fact that he was able to do so was some indication of the silent (spiritual) role that these sacred texts played in his life.

    For some – I suppose – personal reason, he did not let us in on this in the book, nor did he say whether these texts had shaped some of his thoughts on religion and politics.

    He briefly told us why the political prisoners were granted the opportunity of ‘getting educated’ through correspondence courses with Unisa.

    Isaacs was among those who had set up an ‘education committee’ that took charge of the ‘political lecture’ series.

    These lectures were conducted outside the purview of the apartheid authorities over the weekends.

    During these sessions many pertinent topics and themes, such as government representation and the land question, were debated.

    Apart from having made attempts to obtain ‘sanitised’ reading material to further educate themselves, Isaacs was among those (with Joel Gwabeni) who taught their fellow cell mates (includ ing our current president Jacob Zuma) through innovative ways.

    Subjects such as Literacy Skills, Mathematics, Physical Science, Economics and Philosophy were on ‘offer’ in prison cells and the quarry.

    In spite of the difficulties, Isaacs as well as other political prisoners was allowed to study and he was forced to pursue a BA degree in Psychology and Mathematics with Unisa instead of an LLB with the University of London.

    Sometime after his release, in 1977, he got married to Mareldia who was a pillar to him throughout the period he was banned.

    She played a key role since his release to this day and should be commended for the part she played in his contribution.

    By the end of the 1980s he continued his studies and eventually completed his doctorate in the field of informatics.

    Towards the end of our memorable tour, Isaacs gave us an understanding of what the psychological implications were when he and others conquered the quarry, and the changes that had taken place by the time of his release.

    There is little doubt that Sedick Isaacs’ story is a fascinating one that our children and generations to come should be informed about.

    Isaacs, an inconspicuous unsung hero, is an extremely skilful and knowledgeable person who has not been fully appreciated by our community.

    He is someone who should be given recognition for his inputs to the anti-apartheid struggle.

    Dr Muhammed Haron is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Botswana.

    This article appeared in the print edition of MUSLIM VIEWS, April 2011

    Source: http://www.muslimviews.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=153:one-of-the-capes-unsung-heroes&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=108