Muslim Views


Reflections of an anti-apartheid activist

Reflections of an anti-apartheid activist
August 27, 2020
August 27, 2020 August 27, 2020

ZUNAID MOSAM launched his book, Coolie Bandiet on June 16, 2020 at an event hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation. A social justice activist and two academics share their thoughts on the book.


IT is not always that a novel is written and published by an anti-apartheid activist from the rustic platteland (Afr. countryside).

Living in the dorpie (Afr. small town) of Nylstroom, now known as Modimolle, in Coolie Bandiet, Zunaid Mosam provides a snapshot of the racialised nature of life in a typical countryside town under apartheid, and of a people’s resistance to an unjust and undemocratic system of governance.

In the course of that struggle, Zunaid is detained without trial for three months in the mid-1980s under the state of emergency declared by the former apartheid president, PW Botha.

He vividly describes his arrest, detention and interrogation by the security police. Being subjected to solitary confinement for some time and, in an absurd and surreal way having time on his hands, he reminisces about his upbringing and his community’s daily struggles against apartheid.

In doing so, he applies a literary technique of recalling events from his prison cell of his personal, family and community life over a century.

In his world, the ‘community’ is not the racially constructed ‘Indian’ community under the Group Areas Act but the broader community of Phagameng and Nylstroom in the erstwhile Northern Transvaal.

Coolie Bandiet, like Mohamed Enver Surty’s In Pursuit of Justice, is largely anecdotal. It’s a composite of personal and family history, and social and community history.

At heart, Zunaid is a rebel. He rebelled against the racist education system, the authoritarianism of some of his teachers and the disciplinary codes of schooling.

But his spontaneous instincts of challenging racial discrimination were gradually transformed into more considered opposition to and activism against apartheid.

Zunaid is not an ideological hack. His politics traverses the political traditions of the Black Consciousness Movement, the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress. He is also a civic activist.

We can consider ourselves a fortunate generation. We lived and grew up under the despicable and inhumane system of apartheid and saw its demise. Zunaid is part of that generation.

He was witness to the peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy and had the good fortune of serving as a councillor in the Nylstroom and district municipalities.

In Coolie Bandiet, he describes the complexities of establishing a new model of local governance in Modimolle and the reluctance of representatives from the White community to change with the times.

For Zunaid, life and revolution is an on-going and ever-changing process. His disappointment with corruption in government and the capture of the state by unscrupulous private interests serves to strengthen his resolve to fight on in the revolution.

It is this resolve that leaves our generation with hope.

Dr Ismail Vadi is a board ­member of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.


THE ideological and theoretical precepts that got us into the struggle against racial capitalism and apartheid in South Africa continue to redefine and realign themselves, especially in the post-apartheid dispensation that was ushered in during the negotiations for a non-racial democracy.

It is in this vein that Zunaid Mosam has written this thought-provoking and informative book, which is biographic and political as well.

Mosam’s political activism comes against the backdrop of the political terrain of the 1980s, where ANC and the PAC were banned, resulting in the advent of the Black Consciousness Movement.

As a stalwart of the Congress movement, which advocated for the release of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Mosam continued to radicalise the marginalised and disenfranchised majority, especially in the former Northern Transvaal (now known as Limpopo).

For this, he paid dearly. He was consistently harassed by the former illegitimate and oppressive South African regime.

There is a need by liberation activists to document their experiences and suffering while they were engaged in the struggle for liberation so that our future generations may not lose sight of where we come from as a country.

Tsoaledi Daniel Thobejane is ­associate professor in the School of Human and Social Sciences at the University of Venda.


Mosam’s intriguing narrative of his life and prison time as an activist is a stark reminder of the extent to which racism is entrenched in South Africa.

His story and those of many other activists are a reminder firstly of the trauma that many black people faced just living in apartheid South Africa. Those who were harassed, arrested, tortured and killed by the repressive state bore the pain and burden of our current freedom.

Mosam’s insightful commentary shows us that not only were detainees harmed but also families and communities, as the impact of apartheid repression was deep and treacherous.

There is evidence of it persisting in the blood and tears seeping through the cracks of South African systems and institutions. Yet, as Mosam declares, we must have hope. He was one of the few Indians in his area that stood up against all odds for justice and equality.

His dedication to realise a just, equitable and non-racial South Africa echoes through the words of the book.

Professor Shahana Rasool is the head of department of Social Work, University of Johannesburg.

About the author

Zunaid Mosam was born in Makado (Louis Trichardt), in Limpopo.

He had a chequered schooling career, having studied in Modimolle, Durban, Lenasia, Polokwane and through correspondence.

He holds a higher education diploma in journalism.

He worked as a freelance journalist with Al Qalam and was the founder, together with his friend, Ebrahim Ghoor, of the Independent Mirror, a local newspaper in Mokopane (Potgietersrus).

He served on the leadership structure of the ANC Phagameng Branch, as an ANC councillor in the Nylstroom Transitional Local Council and as a member of the mayoral committee in the Waterberg District Council.

Between 1997 and 2000, he was elected onto the executive ­committee of the ANC Bushveld Region and on the party’s provincial executive committee.

To purchase a copy of Coolie Bandiet send a WhatsApp message to Zunaid Mosam on 076 732 0286.



In Coolie Bandiet, Zunaid Mosam provides a snapshot of the racialised nature of life in a typical countryside town under apartheid.

Featured image: Zunaid Mosam, the author of Coolie Bandiet, speaking at the virtual launch of his book, on June 16. The event was hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation. (Photo AHMED KATHRADA FOUNDATION)

This article was first published in the July 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.

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