"Since war, people pass on street, wealth is friends, health" Read the full letter

A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|All

Abdullah Abdurahman

Abdullah Abdurahman (1872 - 1940) was a South African political leader who championed the rights of 'coloured' South Africans in particular. Abdurahman was educated at a mission school in Wellington in South Africa and later qualified as a medical doctor at the University of Glasgow in 1893. He returned to Cape Town where he established a successful multi-racial medical practice which ran until the late 1930s. In 1904 Abdurahman was elected as the first non-European Cape Town city councillor, a position he retained, apart from two years between 1913 and 1915, until his death in 1940. He was later also elected to the Cape Provincial Council, and he worked strenuously to improve educational opportunities for ?coloured? South Africans. 

As Bill Nasson (2004) stresses, Abdurahman made his biggest political mark through his involvement in the 'coloured' political organisation, the African Political (later, Peoples) Organisation (APO), which had been established in September 1902 to oppose increasing racial segregation and discrimination in the aftermath of the 1899-1902 South African War. Abdurahman joined the APO in 1903 and in 1905 he was elected president, a position he retained for 35 years. Under his leadership the APO grew into a national body with many members and branches, and Abdurahman played a particularly important role in opposing the colour-bar restrictions entrenched in the Draft South Africa Act. As part of this, he was a member of the 'Coloured and Native Delegation' led by Will Schreiner which travelled to Britain in 1909 to oppose the Act, which threatened the limited black franchise of the Cape, and earlier he had also worked closely with Gandhi regarding the legal rights of Indians in the Transvaal and elsewhere in South Afirca.

The APO later expanded its remit and attempted 'to negotiate a united black political front in collaboration with African leaders' (Nasson 2004), although eventually Abdurahman's moderate policies and 'collaborations' with white politicians came to be criticised by younger political radicals, and after his death the APO dropped sharply in popularity.

There is only one extant letter from Schreiner to Abdurahman, written in April 1909 in the context of their mutual opposition to the Act of Union. In this letter, Schreiner comments on her pleasure at meeting Abdurahman and his wife, and expresses the hope that 'our brief acquaintance may ripen into sincere friendship'. The perhaps surprising absence of further letters from Schreiner to Abdurahman is discussed by Stanley and Dampier (2010a). Schreiner also powerfully mentions Abdurahman in a letter of 9 April 1909 to her brother Will, where she comments on the scene she had witnessed in the Cape parliament, when apparently liberal politicians abandoned their principles in support of Union, while 'all the while there was Abdurahman?s drawn dark intellectual face looking down at them. Men selling their souls & the future - & fate watching them.' (see also Stanley & Dampier 2010b).

For further information see:
Bill Nasson (2004) 'Abdurahman, Abdullah (1872-1940)' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/73214
Ian Goldin (1987) Making Race: The Politics and Economics of Coloured Identity in South Africa London: Longman
Andre Odendaal (1984) Vukani Bantu! The Beginnings of Black Protest Politics in South Africa to 1912 Cape Town: David Philip 
Stanley Trapido (1970) ?The origin and development of the African Political Organisation? The Societies of Southern Africa in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Volume 1, 89-111 University of London: Institute for Commonwealth Studies
John H. Raynard (2002) Dr A. Abdurahman: A Biographical Memoir Cape Town: Friends of the National Library of South Africa in association with the District Six Museum  
Liz Stanley and Helen Dampier (2010a) 'I trust that our brief acquaintance may ripen into sincere friendship': Networks across the race divide in South Africa in conceptualising Olive Schreiner's letters 1890-1920 OSLP Working Papers on Letters, Letterness & Epistolary Networks, No. 2. http://www.oliveschreinerletters.ed.ac.uk/GiantRaceArticlePDF.pdf
Liz Stanley & Helen Dampier (2010b) ''Men selling their souls & the future - & fate watching them' Olive Schreiner on Union' Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa 64: 121-36
R. E. Van der Ross (1986) The Rise and Decline of Apartheid: A Study of Political Movements among the Coloured People of South Africa, 1880-1985 Cape Town: Tafelberg
Back to top


recipient icon Recipient Of
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
Back to top


mentioned icon Mentioned In
collection icon University of Cape Town, Historical Manuscripts: Manuscripts & Archives at the University of Cape Town is a leading location for accessing archival papers across many per... Show/Hide Collection Letters
Back to top