Ayesha (Bibi) Dawood (Yusuf Mukadam) (1927 - )
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Ayesha (Bibi) Dawood (Yusuf Mukadam)
Ayesha (Bibi) Dawood was born in Worcester on 31 January 1927. Her merchant father, Dawood Hadjie Achmat Tambe, known as Abba, immigrated to South Africa in 1899. Bibi’s mother was Malay, originally from Calvinia.
Dawood grew up in a politicised environment of grim racial oppression, particularly when apartheid became formally adopted as official policy in 1948.
The repugnant Group Areas Act and Population Registration Act were among the crude expressions of apartheid, and this climate propelled Dawood into a life of political activism.
Dawood’s actual involvement in politics started when she enlisted to support the local trade union to organise a strike against unjust laws on 7 May 1951. The stay-away was a huge success in Worcester and culminated in the formation of the Worcester United Action Committee, which she served as secretary, dealing with problems such as pass laws, inadequate and crowded housing and unaffordable rentals.
The local politics in Worcester soon gelled with national activities and Dawood shared the stage with the African National Congress’ (ANC) Thomas Ngwenya and the leader of the Food and Canning Worker’s Union, Ray Alexander, making a call for defiance of the apartheid laws. Her home in Worcester became a hub of activity as people consulted her on a wide range of problems.
During the Defiance Campaign and the preparations towards the Congress of the People, Dawood played an active role in mobilising people to participate in these political events and campaigning tirelessly for defiance of racist laws.
Dawood’s role in local politics in Worcester grew enormously in the 1950s, with the town becoming the most politically active area in the Cape Province. She also had an opportunity to articulate the plight of the country internationally. In 1953, the Committee of Women, a predecessor of the Federation of South African Women, sent her to attend the Women’s International Democratic Federation Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she spoke eloquently about the situation in South Africa. She also attended the World Peace Council Conference in Budapest, Hungary, after which she addressed a rally of the World Youth Congress and Festival in Bucharest, Romania.
After her return to South Africa, she was arrested for incitement in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act in 1954, but received a suspended sentence. The reprieve was, however, temporary, as she was detained for high treason in 1956.
In the late 1950s, political tension heightened in Worcester because of poor municipal services and the Worcester Town Council prohibited public meetings. The continuous commotion in the area and the protests elsewhere led to the Sharpeville massacre resulted in many detentions, which Dawood personally endured for more than five months. After the Sharpeville in 1960, po-litical oppression heightened in the country. During this time, Dawood assisted many people with their various socio-political problems and for some years escaped brushes with the security forces until, in 1967, her husband was arrested for being an illegal immigrant.
Dawood married Yusuf Mukadam in 1961 after he had deserted from the Indian Navy and entered South Africa illegally. In 1968, Bibi and her husband were deported to India after she refused to collaborate with the apartheid forces in exchange for her husband’s being allowed to stay in South Africa. She spent more than 20 years in India, before returning in the 1990s.
Ayesha Dawood could have chosen to remain silent. Instead, she fought against apartheid and paid dearly. She was forced into a harsh life of exile in the impoverished village of Sarwa, near Bombay in India. Her husband was a labour migrant in Kuwait and she had to struggle to fend for their children, also serving her host community in various ways.
Dawood’s life has been one of selfless dedication to freedom in South Africa. She is a true patriot who paid a huge price for the liberation of this country.