Abdulla Ismail Kajee

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Business person, NIC member, Joint Secretary of the SAIC 

First name: 
Abdulla
Middle name: 
Ismail
Last name: 
Kajee
Date of birth: 
1896
Date of death: 
1948

Abdulla Ismail Kajee was born about 1896; Kajee was a politically moderate Moslem businessman and the dominant figure in the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) from the mid-1930s to 1945, when militants took over the leadership. He had only elementary schooling in South Africa but studied for a short time in India. He became politically active in the mid-1920s and emerged as the leading figure in 1935 when orthodox Hindus and various followers split, following the marriage of the Indian government's agent, a Muslim, to a Hindu woman.

An avid learner, Kajee read lot of political literature and took a special interest in the political affairs of the Indians in South Africa. He entered the political arena at the time of Malan's Bill in 1925, and the first found Round Table Conference (1927) between the governments of India and South Africa. For him, the Cape Town Agreement was the foundation upon which the Indian people could advance. Time and again, he returned to this Agreement in pleading for the educational, political and social upliftment of the Indian community.

Kajee was in some ways ruthless in his business dealings, as well as in politics. After the Colonial Born and Settlers Indian Association (CBSIA) was formed in 1932, it is alleged that he organised thugs to break up the meetings of the Association.

He soon rose to prominence within the NIC, and was one of its main spokesmen at public meetings, and in deputations to the various authorities. In 1936, he became the undisputed leader of the NIC following the resignation of the Hindu members, apparently owing to Raza Ali's marriage to a Hindu woman. For some two years, Kajee ran the affairs of the NIC with a few hand picked Muslim friends. From this time onwards, the personal relationship between Kajee and Sorabjee Rustomjee turned sour. The two had up to that time been very close political and business associates.

Once elected to an official position, Kajee was reluctant to lose it. For some nineteen years, 1926 - 1945, he was Joint Secretary of the SAIC (South African Indian Congress). Throughout this period, he conducted the work of the Congress from his business premises. Moreover, even after the Hindu members had returned to the NIC, he was reluctant to share the power and responsibilities. He suspected that Sorabjee was plotting to oust him from the dominant position he had held. Thus, when the NIA was formed, he refused to join and continued to function through a decimated NIC.

Kajee was a great believer in the policy of compromise. He played a big part in negotiating and implementing the policy of voluntary segregation, especially with regard to the assurance given to the Natal Municipal Association (1936) and the Pretoria Agreement of 1944. However, although he fought for the extension of political and economic rights to the Indians, he refused to allow his own employees to join Trade Unions.

Since 1925, Kajee had been a principal spokesman of the moderates in South Africa. He appeared on public platforms, gave evidence to Select Committees, led deputations to the authorities and generally negotiated on behalf of the Congresses. Over the years, he had mastered the intricate legal and technical details of legislation, and was, consequently, usually well prepared. Kajee vehemently opposed any form of militant resistance, as in his view only conciliation and compromise would bring about a gradual change in the political life of the Indians. When he died, he had left behind a flourishing business, which is now run by his sons and grandsons.

Besides his interest in the political affairs, Kajee also took a keen interest in the educational and social upliftment of the community. He personally contributed a lot of money to these institutions and also collected funds for them. As a practising Muslim, he belonged to Muslim Associations. He used these Associations and his connections with the Muslim community as a base for his operations, especially after 1936.

Kajee was instrumental in forming the Orient Club of Durban. This reflected his political views, since the Club consisted mainly of rich Muslim businessmen, and one of its purposes was to invite prominent Europeans to functions in the hope that this intercourse would improve race relations and the status of the Indians.

Kajee, in some ways a dictator, played an important role in the political organisations and was for some time its principal spokesman.


References:
• Taken from Pahad, E. The Development of Indian Political Movements in South Africa, 1924-1946 . D.Phil thesis, University of Sussex, 1972.

Last updated : 04-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011