Founder member of Qibla, member of the PAC, Robben Island political prisoner and advisor to the Islamic Human Rights Commission
Imam Achmad Cassiem was born and grew up in an Islamic environment. He became politicised in the 1960s when the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) organised an anti-pass campaign that ended in the Sharpeville Massacre. At the age of 15, he joined the armed struggle against the apartheid government. At the age of 17, Cassiem together with his teacher, Sadiq Isaacs, was arrested. Isaacs was considered to be the mastermind behind the manufacturing of bombs and explosives. Cassiem was then detained under the 90 Day detention law, during which time he was interrogated by the security police and denied access to a lawyer or his family.
Cassiem and his teacher were charged under the Sabotage Act. Cassiem was sentenced to 5 years in prison, while Isaacs was sentenced to 12 years. He was taken to Robben Island, where he served his sentence and became one of the youngest people to be imprisoned on the Island. During his time in prison, he was punished for attempting to expose the appalling conditions on the Island by smuggling out letters to Amnesty International and the International Red Cross. The person who was to smuggle the letters worked for the system.
After serving his sentence, he was released and immediately issued with a banning order. He was not allowed to communicate with more than one person at a time, entertain visitors or enter any educational institution. Cassiem became a founder member of the radical Qibla (which means direction) movement, which was founded in 1979 with the purpose of defending and promoting Islam in South Africa.
Cassiem was arrested for breaking the conditions of his banning order by attending Jummah (Friday congregational prayers) but was later released. Harassment by the security police did not stop, he was again arrested in 1980 for secretly mobilising students and teachers to oppose apartheid education. As a result, he and 65 others were detained for 243 days without any charge. While in prison he was punished for violating a ban to communicate with other prisoners from Transvaal. As a result, the prison warders confiscated their documentation, newspapers, books and the Qur'an. He was later released without any charges being laid.
On 2 May 1981, Cassiem was arrested once again under the Terrorism Act. This arose after an incident that occurred in Athens Airport, in which ten guerrillas of the movement were caught on their way from Libya, where they had received military training. The plan was that they would come down to Harare and proceed to infiltrate South Africa from that point. One of the guerrillas arrested had Cassiem’s telephone number, which the police used to trace and arrest him. His trial began in 1987 and ended in October 1988. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment.
In 2005 he was also leading the PAC in the Western Cape Province. He served as the party’s Secretary General at national level. Cassiem is the National Chairperson of the Islamic Unity Convention (South Africa) and an advisor to the Islamic Human Rights Commission.
• Quinta, A., (2005), ‘Achmat Cassiem heads Western Cape PAC’, Independent Online, 30 September [online], Available at www.iol.co.za [Accessed 18 October 2012].