TWO generations of activists have paid glowing tribute to Cassiem Christians, who passed away on Wednesday, July 8, 2020 after suffering a stroke a few days earlier.
Christians, who matriculated at Spes Bona High School, in Athlone, and majored in psychology, history and English at the University of the Western Cape, was a member of the Qibla movement and a commander in the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla), the armed wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).
Imraahn Ismail-Mukaddam, a member of Inspire Network Elsies River, an anti-crime fighter and consumer activist, who met Christians three decades ago, paid the following tribute:
Cassiem Christians is no more but his revolutionary ideals and dream of a better world remain alive and relevant today as they were 35 years ago, when I first met this remarkable but unassuming man.
I got to know Cassiem as a dedicated and extremely principled man who was uncompromising in his quest for justice.
I met him in the early ’80s, when I was about 18 years old. He was a regular visitor at Boeta Ebrahim De Jongh’s home, in old Belhar. I was more a resident than a visitor at the time.
Cassiem immediately took an interest in me. I suppose it was my political consciousness that resonated with him. He was an active member of Qibla, and our circle of activists, including Boeta Ebrahim, had aligned with Qibla as our political as well as religious ideology.
But Cassiem was more than a Qibla activist. He was also part of the PAC, recruiting soldiers for its military wing, Apla.
Cassiem, after one of our lengthy political discussions, informed me that I could leave the country and get military training in Libya and even Iran.
He spent many hours teaching me the philosophical bases of Pan-Africanism and the teachings of Robert Sobukwe and the Black Consciousness model of Steve Biko.
His understanding of Marxist theory, coupled with his Pan-Africanist/ Black Consciousness approach was profound.
Cassiem was also a great admirer of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and would often emphasise how this would be the method we should emulate if we wanted to overthrow the apartheid regime. Ayatollah Khomeini was our political and spiritual icon.
Cassiem was the most influential mentor I ever had because he instilled such a sense of purpose in me. He had the ability to inspire anyone with his revolutionary zeal and commitment.
When I met him again, after almost 25years since our encounters in the 1980s, he was exactly as I remembered him. Even though he had switched allegiance to the ANC, he remained committed to social justice.
Cassiem had a genuine concern for especially the poor and marginalised. He started a food garden at the Serviceman’s Hall, in Silvertown, Athlone, and had this fantastic plan to end hunger amongst the poor by breeding rabbits.
He definitely was a man ahead of his time and many of his ideas were practical solutions to complex issues.
He was also involved in the local Community Policing Forum and was an ardent crime fighter, working diligently to rid his immediate neighbourhood of crime.
Cassiem may have been a man of few words, a humble man but a man of action, a leader who commanded from the front.
At his janaazah, the officiating imam paid this tribute to Cassiem: ‘Brother Cassiem lived his whole life amongst the poor, and he died amongst the poor.
‘We ask Allah to grant him to ‘rise amongst the poor on the day of reckoning’, as was the prayer of our Prophet (SAW).’
Cassiem has died but his revolutionary spirit lives on in all the lives he touched and changed. May the Almighty be pleased with his sacrifices and contributions.
Muhammad Khalid Sayed, Member Provincial Legislature and chairperson of the ANC Youth League, Western Cape, was one of the young activists inspired by Christians:
I was shattered to learn of the passing away of Comrade Boeta Cassiem Christians – a mentor, a teacher, a man of deep faith, a revolutionary who contributed selflessly to the struggle for freedom, a man who gave me the political and ideological space and guidance to grow at a very early stage.
May the Almighty grant him the highest place in paradise with those whom he loved so dearly, and grant patience to his family and friends.
Comrade Cassiem, you have left us so soon. I would have loved to spend more time with you in recent months but Allah knows best. I will always remember those valuable chats in Silvertown, at the military veterans hall.
You believed in young people. You forced us to think. You were selfless. When we, as young activists were becoming despondent, fearing the organisation was moving to the right, Comrade Cassiem would say: ‘Be patient. Stay focused. Organise!’
He would engage in discussions ranging from politics to religion, to life.
The kind of guidance he was able to give was at a variety of levels: firstly, at the theoretical level, I remember the intense discussions we would have on the works of Karl Marx, Frantz Fanon and others; then, going into the ideas of Dr Ali Shariati and writings on the Iranian Revolution.
He would then go on to speak about his experiences.
He would unpack modern political systems. He would talk about the nature of the state, about globalisation.
While Comrade Cassiem’s ideas formed the basis for a lot of our thoughts, the most important thing was that he challenged us to think.
But above all, he emphasised that no matter what one achieves, in terms of one’s political activism, it should always be informed by sincerity and a deep love for the oppressed people, and that it should be driven by faith.
While he did not occupy a grand position, activists that he mentored went on to become parliamentarians and others occupying strategic spaces in the private sector and in NGOs.
In the context of COVID-19 and the deepening inequalities in this country, we need more people of the calibre of Cassiem Christians – people who not only have the theory but lead and live by example.
This article was first published in the July 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.