Dr Essop Essak Jassat

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Biographical information

Essop Essak Jassat. Source: Men dynamite

Synopsis:

Medical doctor, Chairperson of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress, the Transvaal Indian Congress and the Transvaal anti-SAIC Committee, member of the ANC, Member of Parliament, patron of the United Democratic Front.

Title: 
Dr
First name: 
Essop
Last name: 
Jassat
Date of birth: 
5 October 1932
Location of birth: 
11th Street Vrededorp, Johannesburg

Dr Essop Essak Jassat, the second of three children, was born on 5 October 1932 in 11th Street Vrededorp, Johannesburg. Both of his parents came from India. His mother, Khadija Jassat (nee Haffajee), was born in Bardoli and his father, Essack Jassat, came from Takoli. His father was at various times a hawker and a shopkeeper.

Dr Jassat matriculated from the Johannesburg Indian High School and was one of only 12 black students to be accepted by the Medical Faculty of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). At the end of his first year of studies, Dr Jassat was informed that there was no place at any of the hospitals for him to continue with his studies. Advised and guided by Molvi Cachalia, he did a two-year science degree before continuing with his medical studies, which he completed in 1960.

Dr Jassat credits his interest in struggle politics to his father and eldest brother. In 1947 he joined the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress (TIYC) and began to actively participate in the many campaigns and activities of the organisation. He was principled and hard working, so it came as no surprise that he was elected as the Chairperson of the TIYC.  At the Congress of the People, in Kliptown, Dr Jassat, as a 23 year old, had the great privilege of introducing the education clause to the assembled delegates. 

In 1955 he received the first of two successive five-year banning orders issued by the government. In 1964, Dr Jassat was charged and sentenced for failing to comply with the conditions of his banning order. George Bizos represented Dr Jassat at his appeal and argued that he inadvertently failed to report to the police on that particular day because he was responding to a medical emergency. He lost the appeal and Dr Jassat  served 10 days of a two year suspended sentence.

As chair of the Student Liberal Organisation at Wits, Dr Jassat came into contact with Bob Hepple. As the regime became more draconian, Hepple recruited Dr Jassat into an underground unit, which was tasked with gathering intelligence and scouting potential sabotage targets. The unit was led by Hepple and consisted of Essop, Sydney Shell anda certain Katuchewitz.

Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) units in the Johannesburg area used a spare room attached to his new surgery to store stocks of dynamite, gelignite, fuses and other material used in sabotage operations. Even though Dr Jassat suspected that his brother Abdulhay Jassat and other operatives were using his premises, he never probed in any way. When Essop was detained under the 90-day detention law, the Special Branch confirmed his suspicion.

Ahmed Kathrada of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) asked him to go a few times to Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia to treat members of the National High Command of MK. The last time he went there was on a Saturday in order to assess Govan Mbeki who was suffering from a debilitating eye problem. Dr Jassat was in the process of arranging for a sympathetic ophthalmologist to examine and treat the senior ANC leader. Unfortunately that never happened as on Thursday after Dr Jassat’s visit, Liliesleaf Farm was raided and the leadership was arrested.

Due to the outlawing of organisations as well as the imprisonment, exile and banning of friends and comrades political activities were dampened during the late 1960s and the 1970s. During this period Dr Jassat worked on launching and strengthening numerous community organisations, in particular, the Johannesburg Indian Social Welfare Association (JISWA), later renamed Johannesburg Institute for Social Services (JISS).

To counter the resurgence of community mobilisation after the 1976 Soweto uprising the apartheid government redoubled its efforts to co-opt pliable members of the oppressed. One such attempt was the creation of the South African Indian Council (SAIC). In 1981, the Transvaal Anti-SAIC Committee was formed to oppose the elections of this body and Dr Jassat was elected as the chairperson.

With the resurgence of Congress politics in the 1980s it was decided to revive the TIC on 1 May 1983. Dr Jassat was a strong advocate of this notion and was elected as the president of the TIC. He also became a patron of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983 and was detained with fellow UDF leaders in 1984.

In December 1984, Dr Jassat and 15 others, including UDF co-presidents Albertina Sisulu and Archie Gumede, were charged with treason. Due to “insufficient and unconvincing evidence”, charges against 12 of the 16 accused were withdrawn in December 1985.

Dr Jassat was a TIC representative at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA)  negotiations. In 1994 he was elected as a Member of Parliament and served in this position until 2004. Dr Jassat returned to his surgery on Bree Street in Fordsburg and is now semi-retired.  

On 25 May 1964, Dr Jassat married Shireen Patel with whom he has a son, Aadil, and two daughters, Yumna and Zaheera.


References:
• Seedat R & Saleh R,  Essop Jassat, in Men of Dynamite - Pen Portraits of MK Pioneers, pp 170 ”“ 172

Last updated : 04-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 03-May-2011