Essop Essak Jassat
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Dr Essop Essak Jassat
Dr Essop Essak Jassat is part of a brave group of political activists who fought relentlessly against injustice. Born on 5 October 1932 in Johannesburg, Jassat’s sense of justice was embedded in him through the influence of his parents who came from India where they were familiar with resisting injustice and knew hard work.
Dr Jassat acknowledges his father and eldest brother who played a significant role in his involvement in the liberation movement. Jassat matriculated from the Johannesburg Indian High School. He subsequently became one of only 12 black students to be accepted by the Medical Faculty of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where he completed his medical studies.
In 1947, he joined the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress (TIYC) and started to actively participate in the many campaigns and activities of the organisation. His dedication to the Congress saw him become its chairperson.
In 1955, he incurred the first of two successive five-year banning orders issued by the government. In 1964, Jassat was charged and sentenced for failing to comply with the conditions of his banning order. George Bizos represented him at his appeal and argued that he inadvertently failed to report to the police on that particular day because he was responding to a medical emergency. He lost the appeal and Jassat served 10 days of a two-year suspended sentence.
As chair of the Student Liberal Organisation at Wits, Jassat came into contact with Bob Hepple. As the apartheid laws became more draconian, Hepple recruited Jassat into an underground unit, which was tasked with gathering intelligence and scouting potential sabotage targets. Umkhonto we Sizwe units in the Johannesburg area used a spare room attached to Jassat’s new surgery to store stocks of dynamite, gelignite, fuses and other material used in sabotage operations.
In December 1984, Jassat and 15 others, including UDF co-presidents Albertina Sisulu and Archie Gumede, were charged with treason. Due to “insufficient and unconvincing evidence”, charges against 12 of the 16 accused were withdrawn in December 1985. Dr Jassat was a representative at the Convention for Democratic South Africa (Codesa) negotiations. In 1994 he was elected as a Member of Parliament and served in this position until 2004.
Jassat returned to his surgery on Bree Street in Fordsburg and is now semi-retired.