Cape Town celebrates a hallmark moment for the Muslim community after 10 of 31 kramats in Cape Town have been declared national heritage sites in South Africa.
Kramats are tombs, often referred to as the ‘Circle of Islam’ or the ‘Circle of Tombs’. These landmarks have incredible cultural and historical significance in our country’s story that might be lesser known – making the recognition as a national heritage site long overdue.
The SA Heritage Resource Agency (Sahra) made plans to declare this milestone last year already in an effort to spearhead recognition of the cultural significance of the Muslim community’s important figures in socio-political and religious atmospheres.
These people were political exiles and slaves and often slaves of the dutch. They were figures largely responsible for the spread of Islam in Cape Town, which would later spread throughout South Africa. The identification as a national heritage site also speaks to a community’s story of resistance and slavery.
During the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company invaded places like Ceylon, India and Java. Anyone resisting their occupation got sent to the Cape. Combined with Malay, Indian, Javanese, Bengalese and Arabian slaves, these people formed the beginnings of the Muslim community in Cape Town, as SA Venues recalls.
The wait for declaration as a national heritage site, however, has actually been in seating since the 1980s.
The decades-long series of failed attempts toward recognition caused CMS chairperson Mahmoud Lambada to have a realisation.
“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.’”
The process was extensive, but now the kramats are protected by Sahra and the national Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.
Figures like Tuan Guru, Sheik Abdurahman, Matebe Shah and others are remembered by these tombs, as IOL notes. The declaration of the kramats’ as a heritage site allows the security of preservation for future generations to come and learn about the pioneers of their history.
And isn’t it the various different elements of South Africa’s culture that make us quite so unique and brilliant, after all?
Indeed, our beauty and power go far beyond our aesthetics and natural beauty. All aspects of our history deserve a seat at the table, and this is an important step in a fuller narrative of South Africa.
“When people come to South Africa, people normally look for heritage sites and they will hopefully come to the kramats because of their status,” Lambada further said.
The declaration, especially for the Mother City allows the Islam community their much deserved declared space and credit in shaping the Mother City.
Picture: Peter Titmuss