With the Muslim community playing an integral role in the life and history of Cape Town, today will mark a significant event when 10 kramats will officially be declared as National Heritage Sites in what is referred to as the ‘Circle of Tombs’. Picture: Samir Abdul /Myphotocorner
With the Muslim community playing an integral role in the life and history of Cape Town, today will mark a significant event when 10 kramats will officially be declared as National Heritage Sites in what is referred to as the ‘Circle of Tombs’. Picture: Samir Abdul /Myphotocorner

Watershed moment for Muslim community as 10 kramats in Cape Town get declared heritage sites

By Rafieka Williams Time of article published Dec 3, 2021

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Held in higher esteem than slave traders and colonialists

Cape Town - Today marks a milestone for the Muslim community as 10 of 31 kramats in Cape Town are being declared national heritage sites by the SA Heritage Resource Agency (Sahra).

Their serial nomination was initiated by the Cape Mazaars Society (CMS) and Vidamemoria heritage consultants.

Referred to as “the circle of tombs”, the kramats are grave sites of iconic figures in Islam in South Africa.

Figures like Tuan Guru, Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, Sheikh Yusuf, Sheikh Noorul Mubeen, Sheikh Abdul Mutalib and others were political exiles or slaves and were responsible for the introduction and spread of Islam in Cape Town and later across South Africa.

The declaration as national heritage sites will ensure the kramats’ preservation and protection for the benefit of present and future generations.

CMS chairperson Mahmoud Lambada said they had waited since the mid-1980s for what today was a watershed moment for the Muslim community.

After having endured many failed attempts, Lambada said: “That is when I realised, ‘how can a slave master recognise a slave and elevate his remembrance? If you look at kramats, they are held in higher esteem than the slave traders and the colonialists. They saw the big picture and they said ‘no, there’s no way we are going to preserve this.’”

Lambada said the society later contacted Vidamemoria to assist.

“In future, we know that this legacy will be preserved for prosperity and for our faith going forward … Those people who didn’t know what the kramats are will now have the opportunity to learn more about them.

“When people come to South Africa, people normally look for heritage sites and they will hopefully come to the kramats because of their status,” he said.

Muslim Judicial Council deputy president Moulana Abdul Khaliq Ebrahim Allie said: “The history is a reminder that the Muslim community equally suffered under imperialism and colonialism. As part of the South African community, by such acknowledgement with the heritage declaration, it gives us a feeling of acceptance.”

Cape Town Interfaith Initiative chairperson, Reverend Berry Behr said: “I really believe that Cape Town’s diversity is one of its super powers, so we really need to be looking out for each other. We need to be looking after each other and honouring each other’s sacred sites and sacred places.”

The declaration process was extensive. After they were nominated, Sahra identified the sites as of grade one significance, with the potential of being a national resource.

Sahra soon realised that the story of the kramats was deeper than resistance and slavery and closely linked to the story of Islam in the Cape. Following this, it held multiple meetings with the two organisations.

Sahra Built Environment Unit manager Ben Mwasinga said: “To all South Africans, these resources are now protected in our national estate and therefore they will be conserved in a higher standard that we agreed to with Unesco.

“These properties are now within the jurisdiction of Sahra and, by extension, the national Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.”

Quahnita Samie of Vidamemoria said the declaration was a tribute to the Muslim community’s contribution to the history and traditions of Cape Town.

“Much of the social and cultural uniqueness that we see today in our city is due to the important role played by this community through the centuries. It was therefore a unique honour for us as heritage consultants to be involved in this hugely impactful legacy process,” she said.

There are plans to have the rest of the kramats also declared heritage sites. The ones to be declared heritage sites today are:

  • Sheikh Yusuf Kramat in Faure;
  • Sayed Mahmud in Summit Road, Constantia;
  • Sheikh Abdul Mutalib in Constantia Forest;
  • Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah in Constantia;
  • Tuan Dea Koasa and Tuan Ismail Dea Malela in Simon’s Town;
  • Sheikh M Hassen Ghaibie Shah and Tuan Kaape-ti-low on Signal Hill;
  • Sayed Moegsien bin Alawieal Aidarus and
  • Sheikh Al ibn Muhammad AlIraqi in Mowbray, and
  • Sheikh Noorul Mubeen in Oudekraal.

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