Cassim Amra was born in 1919 in Durban Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal). He attended Sastri College, Durban where he represented the senior cricket team. Amra was exposed to George Singh and other activists who played a crucial role in charting a more confrontational course for the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) against the then conservative leadership of the organisation.
After matriculating in 1937, he joined the Durban-based Liberal Studies Group (LSG) and joined members such as IC Meer, Dawood Seedat and Dr Monty Naicker. The LSG’s mouthpiece, The Call for Freedom and Justice, was published from Amra’s home on Milton Road, Durban. He wrote many of the articles for the paper. Peter Abraham, one of South Africa’s best known poets of this period, dedicated his first collection of poems Tell Freedom to his "close friend" Cassim Amra.
Amra was a key member of the Anti Segregationist Council (ASC), which ousted the conservative leadership of the NIC. He opposed South Africa’s participation in World War II and criticised Indian involvement in the war effort. In The Call, Amra asked:
Why Support the Mayor’s Fund? Why are non-Europeans making such a heroic effort to boost the much-advertised Mayor’s Fund? There really seems no end to the sacrifices, which the Indian community will make to help forward this war fund. Is it being waged in their interests, or in the interests of the working people of any country? Indian children are fainting by the dozen every day in Union schools from HUNGER. Why not make this your concern?
When moderate Indian politicians convened a meeting at the Royal Picture Palace in Durban on 9 June 1940 and passed a resolution in support of the war Amra wanted to know, “What 'conscience' calls upon you to lick the boot that kicks you?...So-called ‘leaders,' wanted to show the authorities that ‘he is a good boy.’ He [that is the then conservative leaders of the NIC] is a coward, without principle or pride.”
“Housewives became involved,” Amra added, “because - - - they heard about European women knitting for soldiers. She reads about Mrs. So-and-So’s war effort to raise so-and-so fund. The subtle propaganda has worked. She who would not lift a hand in time of peace to help the poor and needy suddenly becomes ultra-patriotic and charitable. She forgets that there are as many soldiers ”” martyrs of the economic system ””who are walking the streets.”
Amra, Dawood Seedat and lC Meer even shared the stage with future Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, who visited Durban on 3l March 1941 en route to India from England where she was studying. According to Pauline Podbrey, a member of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), “This was a great coup for the young guard of the Nationalist Bloc of the NIC." It turned out to be one of the biggest public gatherings of Durban Indians ever held. The meeting was held at the Avalon Cinema on 2 April 1941.
Meer, Amra and Seedat made impassioned anti-war speeches. Amra was also involved in the Passive Resistance Campaign of 1946-48. After the campaign, he enrolled for a law degree at the University of Cape Town but was thrown out of the Western Province (now Western Cape) as he did not have a permit to be in the Cape. At the time, Indians from other provinces were required to have a permit to be in the Cape. During the 1950s, Amra was prominent in both the NIC and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) but successive banning orders reduced his public involvement.
Amra was married to Mabel Jacobs whom he met in Cape Town. Jacobs was the principal of Rippon Road School, Durban for many years. After his banning, Amra worked in IC Meer’s legal practice in Verulam, Natal.
Amra was not only an inspiring writer and passionate public speaker but also a superb photographer who often lectured at the International Club on photography.