Mahomed Dawood Barmania was the son of Dawood Barmania, owner of commercial and farming properties in both Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) and Surat in the West Indian state of Gujarat. At the turn of the century, after having been in Natal for some fifteen years, Dawood Barmania returned to India with his family.
The young Mahomed Barmania attended City College, Calcutta (now Kolkata), India and the University of Calcutta where he obtained a MA Degree in Economics.
Soon after graduating he returned to South Africa to assist his brother in the management of his father’s general dealer’s store at uMzimkulu in Southern Natal. In 1930 he moved to Cape Town, Western Province (now Western Cape) where, after a brief spell as a general dealer, he followed a career as business manager and later as financial adviser. He retired in 1969.
Largely as a consequence of his level of education””unusually high by the standards of the time for Indians in South Africa””Barmania was held in considerable esteem by Cape Town’s small Indian community. As community leader it was a natural step for him to enter politics by joining, in the mid 1930s, the Cape Indian Congress. Soon afterwards he was elected to represent the Cape Province on the executive of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC).
The Smuts’s government proposal to establish segregated Indian residential areas in Natal and the Transvaal divided the SAIC. Instead of rejecting these proposals outright, as the new and populist generation of Indian political leaders in South Africa did, Barmania aligned himself with the SAIC’s traditional policy of attempting to find a compromise solution without conceding the principle of segregation. The introduction by the government of the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Bill in March 1946 signalled the failure of the SAIC’s strategy and, in so doing, totally undermined the credibility of the Congress leadership.
The new Bill resulted in a storm of protest, locally and abroad. The SAIC published a booklet summarising its objections to the Bill. A SAIC representative was granted leave to be heard in the Senate of the South African Parliament against the provisions of the Bill. As one of the joint secretaries of the SAIC, Barmania addressed the Senate for 50 minutes on 3 May 1946 to explain why the Congress rejected the Bill.
In light of the national and international protest against the Bill, it can be surmised that the Senate only agreed to Barmania’s appearance at the bar in an attempt to soften international condemnation of the Bill. Barmania’s Senate appearance was the only one by an Indian South African, and one of only two such appearances””the first appearance was in 1914 in protest against the deportation of labour leaders.
Having lost control of the SAIC in October 1946, the conservative Indian leadership of whom Barmania remained a member, formed a rival body, the South African Indian Organisation (SAIO). However, the futility of negotiations with the government, especially after the National Party (NP) came to power in 1948, led to Barmania’s early retirement from national politics.
Barmania continued to play an active community role by serving in charitable organisations, the local Mosque committee and the local school board. Upon his death the Cape Town City Council named a road in Crawford after him in recognition of his community work.
While in India Barmania married Ayesha Bibi. A son and two daughters were born of the marriage. After his first wife’s death he married Jadija Sirkhott in Cape Town in 1939. Three daughters and two sons were born of this marriage.
• E. J. Verwey. (1999). New Dictionary of South African Biography, Volume 1 HSRC Press, p13, online. Available at www.books.google.co.za. Accessed on 12 January 2015.