The Jakarta Post
Animated by a conversation on inequality, poverty and corruption, Yehia Cachalia did not look his 77 years. His sister, Saeedah Hassan nee Cachalia, 75, had a much softer tone, but she too had a strong message to convey about the challenges still facing South Africans today, 20 years after the fall of apartheid.
Clearly, the Cachalias have inherited a spirit of activism from their late father, the Indian-descended Ismail Ahmed Cachalia or Molvi Cachalia, one of South African's greatest liberation activists, who attended the historic Asian-African Conference in Bandung in 1955 despite the best efforts of the South African authorities.
South Africa values the conference as part of its history. It was one of the first and largest events at which the anti-apartheid struggle was internationalized and foreign support for the liberation movement was mobilized.
'Molvi is a term synonymous with Iman or Sufi,' Saeedah said at the terrace of their comfortable house, hidden behind a high fence in one of Johannesburg's premium residential complexes.
Full of smiles and warm hospitality, the Muslim family received Indonesian journalists, including The Jakarta Post, at the house, three weeks ago.
The tweets of caged birds provided a cozy backing to the heated but constructive discussions that afternoon, as if the spirit of the Bandung message had flown through time and space to the economic capital of South Africa.
Molvi's children enthusiastically recounted his 'illegal' journey, accompanied by activist Moses Kotane, to Bandung, but spoke widely too on education, poverty, corruption and democracy.
'We were very young at the time. I remember the government took their passports away, neither had a passport when they were invited to Bandung, but they got hold of tickets anyway. They also managed to travel without passports to London,' Yehia said.
Molvi and Moses, who died in 2003 and 1978, respectively, were invited to represent an alliance led by Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC).
In London, they met with Indian politician VK Krishna Menon, who provided them travel documents that enabled them to travel to Egypt, India, Singapore and, eventually, Indonesia.
But the challenges did not end there. Molvi and Moses were reportedly detained and interrogated upon arrival in Cairo, though not for long.
During their stop-overs in India and Singapore, they canvassed support for the struggle against apartheid, said Haroon Aziz, a researcher working on Molvi's biography. Saeedah is also involved in the project, which studies the contribution of Islamic values to the struggle against apartheid.
'Then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime mover for the alliance's presence at the Bandung Conference, which was convened by the leaders of India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Burma [now Myanmar] and Ceylon [now Sri Lanka],' Haroon said.
Before state leaders attending the conference, Molvi and Moses presented the well-received Memorandum against Apartheid, which significantly helped to ensconce the anti-apartheid struggle and quickened the demise of the regime.
Partly thanks to international pressure, apartheid ended in 1993 and Mandela was democratically elected president in 1994. Indonesia subsequently opened diplomatic ties with South Africa.
Molvi's children were also involved in activism, leading them to be detained without trial. Besides Yehia and Saeedah, Molvi's other children are Hafsa Patel nee Cachalia, who currently lives in Canada; Rashida Daya nee Cachalia, who resides in Trichardt and Johannesburg in South Africa; and youngest daughter Khaleeda Dockrat, nee Cachalia, who passed away in 2002.
Saeedah, for example, was imprisoned for six months without charges.
'They arrested us because we were protesting against the education system. They separated schools for Africans, for colored, for Indians, they wanted superior education for the whites. So we fought that. We demonstrated against that,' she said.
While Yehia is now retired, Saeedah is still active despite her age. Besides the biography project, she is also involved in a project in Bethal, an area with a sad history of ugly apartheid laws and where Molvi is now buried.
A famous strike known as the 'potato boycott' occurred in Bethal in the 1950s, following reports of farm workers being beaten to death and left to die and be buried in the fields. This prompted a boycott of the Bethal farms.
'The land was donated to Molvi and we wish to establish an Islamic Institute and a mosque there. These formed part of his dearest wishes after the great freedom from oppression, which was Molvi's priority in his time,' Saeedah said.
Saeedah also works with the ANC's veteran league, keeping her in contact with most of the party's comrades.
'I still support the same ideology that we had in the past,' she said.
Yehia concurred, 'After 342 years of struggle we got freedom, it's a great achievement. What still needs to be achieved is better economic distribution and the eradication of corruption.'
'Fighting for freedom in the past was easier, honestly, because we knew our enemy. Today, our enemy is much greater because we don't know who they are,' Yehia said.
Few would deny that his message remained relevant for the challenges facing many developing countries today. Let us hope that the message is heard by leaders of Asian and African nations who are today in Indonesia to attend the commemoration of the conference's 60th anniversary.