Political activist and exile. A leading member of the Transvaal Indian Congress and the African National Congress. Prominent in 1946 Indian Passive Resistance Campaign and the 1952 Defiance Campaign.
Molvi Ismail Ahmed Cachalia was born in the then Transvaal province of South Africa on 5 December 1908. At the time Cachalia’s father, who was the chairman of the British Indian Association, was in prison because of his involvement in the first passive resistance campaign led by MK Gandhi.
Cachalia went to school at the Bree Street Indian School and after completing standard five - at the age of 16 - he went to study at the Muslim Theological college in Deoband India.
In the late 1930s, with Dr Dadoo, Cachalia was instrumental in mobilising young activists within the Indian community in the Transvaal around a programme of militant mass action to oppose discrimination against Indians and to forge co-operation with other militant political organisations amongst African, Coloured and White in the fight for equal rights.
Cachalia was one of the key figures in the 1946-1947 Indian passive resistance campaign. This campaign and the African mine workers strike were both held in the same year and were turning points in the history of resistance. The Indian passive resistance campaign led to the formal forging of a political alliance between the Indian and African National Congress.
In 1952 Cachalia was Deputy Volunteer-in-Chief to Nelson Mandela in the Defiance Campaign. In 1955, Cachalia and Moses Kotane (leader of the A.N.C. and Chairperson of the outlawed South African Communist Party) left South Africa illegally to represent the liberation movement at the historic Asian-African Bundung Conference. In the same year Cachalia was awarded the World Peace Council Award.
After the Sharpeville shootings in 1960 Cachalia was one of the thousands of democrats arrested as part of the state of emergency. In 1961 as one of the Congress Alliance leaders, Cachalia attended secret meetings with Chief Albert Luthuli to decide on their support of the move to armed struggle. In 1964 Cachalia and Dan Thloomo (ANC stalwart and the head of the Transvaal Command of MK) fled to Botswana to set up an ANC mission.
In 1966 Cachalia moved to Delhi and established the ANC mission in India with Alfred Nzo. In 1972, due to ill health, Cachalia was forced to retire from active politics and he went to live in his ancestral village of Kala Kacha outside the south Gugurat city of Navsari, India. In 1977 Cachalia was honored with the Padma Shri, India's highest award.
With the unbanning of the liberation movements he returned to South Africa in 1990 after 26 years in exile. In the countries first democratic elections of 1994 Cachalia was asked by the ANC to become part of its election campaign. Maulvi Cachalia passed away on 8 August 2003.
• Reddy, E.S. 1992. Indian South Africans in the struggle for national liberation: Evidence of Molvi Ismail Ahmad Cachalia in the South African Treason Trial, 21- 28 June 1960 [Online]. Available at: anc.org.za. [Accessed 28 October 2009]