19 September 2019
We are gathered at Heroes’ Acre in Westpark Cemetery (Johannesburg) to mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of Dr Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo.
Dr Dadoo was born on 5 September 1909 in Krugersdorp and he passed away on 19 September 1983 in London, where he is buried at Highgate Cemetery – a few metres from the tomb of Karl Marx. There is nothing extraordinary about the 110th birthday of a person; particularly of a person who died 36 years ago. Yet it is important that we mark this occasion.
Many will not disagree if I say that Dr Dadoo was among the top 10 leaders of the national liberation movement in South Africa, led by the African National Congress (ANC). Undoubtedly, he can be ranked among the giants of our revolution and stands in the league of Chief Albert Luthuli, JB Marks, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Moses Kotane, Nelson Mandela, Lilian Ngoyi, Joe Slovo, Reggie September, Rusty Bernstein and Duma Nokwe.
Dadoo is a complex and mature revolutionary who was able to voluntarily embrace and seamlessly blend the struggle for national self-determination with the class struggle and the particularistic struggles of the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses in South Africa. He was elected onto the leadership of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in Johannesburg as early as 1941; served as the Chairman of the reconstituted South African Communist Party (SACP); was elected as the President of both the Transvaal and the South African Indian Congresses and appointed onto the ANC’s Revolutionary Council. He was at ease in actively supporting the 1946 African mineworkers’ strike, organising the Indian Passive Resistance Campaign and participating in the Defiance Campaign of 1952. He creatively integrated Gandhian methods of non-violent, mass resistance and armed struggle to apartheid, racism and colonialism. He was an anti-colonialist, an anti-imperialist and revolutionary leader with international stature and respect.
In his honour stands a school in Azaadville named the Dr Yusuf Dadoo Primary School and the Dr Yusuf Dadoo Hospital in Krugersdorp. But there is not a place in our country where family, comrades and friends can gather to reflect on his life or to offer a prayer for his departed soul. It is for this reason that the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, together with members of the Dadoo family, deemed it necessary to lay a stone in his memory alongside the grave of Kathrada and the memorial stone of Laloo “Isu” Chiba.
If Kathrada was present today, he would say what is recorded in his Memoirs. Kathy writes:
It was at about this time aged nine, that I first heard of Yusuf Dadoo, a guiding light in the arena of political activism. In my child’s mind, he became larger than life. I grew up trying to memorise everything I heard and read about him, and would cling to his every utterance or statement… I remember the adults discussing his emphasis on education and his criticism of extravagant weddings… and pleaded with parents to send their daughters to school and university so as to facilitate their integration into the broad spectrum of society… He was charismatic, fiery, frank and bold in his utterances, courageous in his actions and far-sighted in his vision. More relevant, for me, was his advocacy of the unity and equality of all oppressed people.
Later in his book, Kathy recalls that during the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act led by the more militant and radical leadership of the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses, Dr Dadoo, Ismail Meer and JN Singh “came to fetch me from my classroom to perform some or other menial task. I never went back. There was tremendous enthusiasm for the cause, and with the abundant wisdom, of my seventeen years, cocksure that my contribution was indispensable, I followed suit. In hindsight, I hope we were not viewed as pioneers of the ‘liberation before education’ syndrome”.
I was born in 1960. I never met Dr Dadoo. What I say about him is what I have learnt from reading history and listening to senior comrades in the national liberation movement. Yesterday, I called Harlene and Abdulhay Jassat and asked them about Dr Dadoo. Known to them as “Mota” – a Gujarati term for an elder or uncle – and to others as “Doc”, they said he was a down to earth person that made one feel comfortable. As younger activists in the movement, they always could talk to him about their personal challenges in life and confide in him.
He loved good food, particularly fish curry and trotters. Unlike many leaders today, he led a simple life at his home and surgery on 47 End Street in Doornfontein (Johannesburg), and in exile, at his modest home in Muswell Hill (Highgate). He treated many of his poor patients for free and allowed his surgery that was ably administered by “Boxer” Loonat to be used for political meetings and campaign work. In Anthony Sampson’s book, Mandela is quoted as saying, “I was impressed that a man like Dr Dadoo, a doctor from Edinburg, was living simply, wearing a khaki shirt, big boots and an army overcoat”.
Dadoo schooled at the Bree Street Primary School, Johannesburg Indian Government School, Aligarh College in India and later completed his medical degree at Edinburgh university. Inspired by the rise of the British Labour Party in the 1929 general election, he began to read Marxist literature, joined the Independent Labour Party, and befriended a fellow South African medical student, Monty Naicker. In 1936, Dadoo was awarded his medical degree and returned to South Africa.
At home he involved himself with the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC), an organisation that at the time was led by a conservative political leadership. In 1938, Dadoo was a founding member and Secretary of the Non-European United Front (NEUF). In 1939, along with both younger members and veterans of Gandhi’s campaigns, he founded a “nationalist bloc” within the TIC, with the goal of commencing a passive resistance campaign against the Asiatic Land Tenure Act.
In 1946, Dr Dadoo and Dr Monty Naicker led the Passive Resistance Campaign against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Bill, dubbed the “Ghetto Bill”. The next year the two leaders, along with Dr Alfred Xuma, signed the “Three Doctors’ Pact” of political co-operation between the ANC, TIC and NIC, calling for the right to vote, freedom of movement, education and equal opportunity for all non-European South Africans. The “Joint Declaration of Co-operation”, as it was officially known, was signed on 9 March 1947, marked the principled unity of the African and Indian people in the common struggle against the racist government. The pact was a forerunner to the Congress of the People that adopted the Freedom Charter in Kliptown on 26 June 1955, and signalled the beginning of a more organised struggle for a non-racial, democratic society .
In 1950, Dadoo was elected President of the SAIC, which promptly joined with the ANC in 1952 to organise the Defiance Campaign Against Six Unjust Laws. He was appointed as the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Council headed by Walter Sisulu. Dadoo was banned from attending all gatherings and ordered to resign from the SAIC and the Defiance Campaign Planning Committee. In 1953, Dadoo and others secretly reconstituted the CPSA as the South African Communist Party (SACP).
In 1955, the ANC bestowed the Isitwalandwe/Seaparankoe Award on Dadoo along with Chief Luthuli and Father Trevor Huddleston. This award is deemed the ANC’s highest accolade in honour of their contributions to the struggle for freedom and democracy. Dadoo’s mother accepted the award on his behalf as he was unable to attend due to his banning orders.
In 1957, he was explicitly banned from speaking to more than one person at a time. In 1960, the Sharpeville massacre prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and issue warrants for the arrest of most known leaders of the liberation movement. Dadoo evaded arrest and operated underground for several months until the SACP, in consultation with the SAIC, asked him to go into exile in London. Dadoo served on the leadership of the South African United Front that brought together the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress, the SACP and SWAPO in exile. In 1969, Dadoo was elected as the Vice-Chairman of the ANC’s Revolutionary Council established at the Morogoro Conference. In 1972, after death of JB Marks, Dadoo was elected the Chairman of the SACP Central Committee, a position he held until death in 1983.
Dadoo travelled to Saudi Arabia in 1966 to perform the Islamic pilgrimage of Haj. He was accompanied by Molvi Cachalia and Ahmed Timol, who was later killed in detention in South Africa at the hands of the Security Police. At the time of his death Dadoo served as the Vice-Chairman of the ANC’s Politico-Military Council.
Dadoo died of prostate cancer. He was given a burial according to Muslim rights and is interred at Highgate Cemetery alongside the fellow Iraqi Communist and Muslim activist, Saad Saadi Ali. The inscription on his tombstone reads, “Yusuf Dadoo, Fighter for National Liberation, Socialism and World Peace”. To commemorate his death the TIC organised in Lenasia a mass rally to pay tribute to him, which was banned by the apartheid government. However, the TIC distributed a mass leaflet entitled, “Yusuf Dadoo – Portrait of a Freedom Fighter” and a special edition of Congress Resister entitled, “Yusuf Dadoo 1909-1983: He fought for freedom, he died our leader”.
At his funeral ANC President Oliver Tambo delivered a moving eulogy saying:
We are gathered here to pay homage to an outstanding leader of the African liberatory struggle, a comrade and friend who devoted most of his life in the service of his people, a communist of world prominence; a dedicated and convinced internationalist who has played an effective role in the anti-imperialist movement for world peace and security and for the social progress of mankind. Loved and admired throughout our movement, `Doc` – as he was popularly known – combined the best qualities of a revolutionary patriot and dynamic leader of the working class. Because of his clear understanding of the factors underlying national oppression and economic exploitation of the black South African masses, he was able in his own unassuming manner, to guide and inspire others to commit themselves fully in the struggle for the noble ideals of freedom, democracy and a just social order. Most important of all, he led by example.
Dadoo’s revolutionary legacy was a threat even after his death. On 4 July 1986, almost three years after his death, the apartheid government’s Gazette Number 1417 bizarrely announced another five-year banning order imposed on Yusuf Mahomed Dadoo.
As we memorialise his astonishing legacy, it is my wish that someone will publish a full-length biography of one of the greatest revolutionaries of our struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa.
Dr Ismail Vadi is a Member of the Board of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation