by YUSUF KHAN DALWAI
IN January 1982, a group of people with common interest formed what was then called the Robben Island Mazaar (Kramat) Committee.
Their vision is to maintain the numerous shrines located in the Western Cape and to propagate the teachings of the saints interred therein.
The name was subsequently changed to The Cape Mazaar Society.
The society is a constituted body registered as a non-profit organisation (NPO) with the Department of Social Development and as a public benefit organisation (PBO) with the South African Revenue Services (SARS).
The beginnings were humble and consisted of cleaning and repainting the kramats.
Later, major refurbishment and renovation projects were undertaken and successfully completed. Thus, public support for the work of the society grew.
The southern-most tip of Africa is rich in Islamic culture and history, and this heritage has to be preserved for posterity.
The memories of Shaikh Yusuf of Macassar, Sayed Abduraghman Motura of Robben Island, Shaikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah of Klein Constantia, Sayed Mahmud of Islam Hill, Sayed Abdul Malik of Vredehoek, Tuan Guru of Bo-Kaap, Shaikh Mohamed Hassen Ghaibie Shah of Signal Hill, Shaikh Noorul Mubeen of Oudekraal and Sayed Jaffer must be preserved.
According to a prophecy over 250 years ago, there would be a ‘Circle of Islam’ around the Cape. It is believed that this circle is formed by the shrines of Islamic saints, the tombs of the ouliyah (friends of Allah) and some of South Africa’s most influential spiritual leaders.
The kramats are regarded as highly sacred places that represent the advent of Islam in southern Africa.
They are symbolic of the resistance against religious, social and political oppression by the Dutch, slavery and British colonialism.
Subjected to harsh forms of cruelty and torture for their roles in resisting oppression by the Dutch and the British, both in Indonesia and at the Cape, the saints never wavered and continued to teach unity and peace amongst different faiths.
In keeping with these teachings, many non-Muslims also visit the kramats regularly.
They are also places of sanctity that provide spiritual benefits to those who visit and partake of the remembrance of the friends of Allah.
The kramats inspire reverence and peace, not only because of the architectural achievement or aesthetic appeal of the physical structures but because of the character, knowledge and spiritual station of those buried there.
These saints contributed to the shaping of the cultural history of the Cape.
The preservation of the traditions relating to the history of the kramats, the religious gatherings, the adhkaar held by various congregations of the Cape Muslim community, have been passed on from generation to generation, mainly through word of mouth. This tradition has essentially been preserved orally.
In 2019, the Cape Mazaar Society and Vidamemoria initiated a serial nomination of the kramats with a view to declare the ‘Circle of Tombs’ as National Heritage Sites.
Nominations were discussed at the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) Grading Committee on September 15, 2020.
Before declaration can be considered, a public participation process as prescribed in terms of Section 27 of the National Heritage Resources Act is to be undertaken. SAHRA will oversee formal notification to the owners and to conservation bodies.
Ten kramats have been identified in the first series of the nomination process. They are Sayed Mahmud in Summit Road Constantia, Shaikh Abdul Mutalib in Constantia Forest, Shaikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah in Constantia, Tuan Dea Koasa in Simonstown, Tuan Ismail Dea Malela in Simonstown, Shaikh Mohamed Hassen Ghaibie Shah on Signal Hill, Tuan Kaape-ti-low on Signal Hill, Sayed Moegsien bin Alawieal Aidarus in Mowbray, Shaikh A ibn Muhammad AlIraqi in Mowbray, Shaikh Noorul Mubeen in Oudekraal and Matarah Kramat, Robben Island.
The society will nominate additional kramats in the next phase of the serial nomination process. At this stage, the society is inviting interested and affected parties to make submissions regarding proposed declaration.
This process is running concurrently with the formal public participation process.
The society is appealing for public support for its nomination. We are of the view that the nomination is in the public interest and is particularly important for preserving early Cape Muslim history.
Anyone who would like to express their support for the nomination or obtain further information is requested to contact Quahnita Samie of Vidamemoria at 076 840 9556, M S Limbada, the chairman of the Cape Mazaar Society, at 083 555 9786 or Yusuf Khan Dalwai at 074 722 2814.
Comments must be submitted by December 15, 2020.
- Yusuf Khan Dalwai is the public relations officer of the Cape Mazaar Society.
This article was first published in the November 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.