Dawood Seedat: 1916-1976

The name Dawood Seedat might not be familiar to that many people, but that only serves to prove the number of unsung heroes that we have in South Africa, and how so much more needs to be done to publicise the work of the countless individuals who made it possible for us to live the lives that we do today.

Dawood Seedat

Dawood Seedat

Seedat experienced the horrors of the apartheid government first hand at the young age of fourteen when, on the 16th December 1930, he witnessed the police attacking anti-apartheid protestors at Cartwight Flats. Trade unionist and member of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), Johannes Nkosi, was one of the men who was beaten during the pass-burning protest. Sadly Nkosi succumbed to his wounds, dying in hospital on the 19th December. Some 23 years later, with the memory of that day still fresh in his mind, Seedat made it his mission to track down the unmarked grave of Johannes Nkosi, which he managed to locate in Stellawood Cemetery. Such was the compassion of Seedat that he used three months of his wages to pay for a tombstone for the grave, also paying for Nkosi’s mother to travel from Johannesburg to Durban to see the unveiling of her son’s gravestone.

The fact that Nkosi wasn’t a member of his ‘community’ meant nothing to Seedat who, as a member of the Communist Party, believed in the doctrine of non-racialism that the party promoted. Seedat was also opposed to British control, both of South Africa, and of India, and actively opposed South Africa’s support of England during World War II. A secret memorandum from the Department of Justice dated the 20th January 1964 notes that Seedat’s “Don’t support the War” pamphlets had a marked effect on the recruitment of Indians for the war effort. On the 5th February 1941, in his speech to the crowd meeting at Red Square, Seedat spoke of his disdain for the British and South African governments:

I personally have no respect for King George VI. We have a satellite of the King in this country, General Smuts”

He was charged with contravening National Security Regulations, alongside fellow Communist Party member, Yusuf Dadoo. The pair were sentenced to three months hard labour, and following their release were banned from all political activity from 1941 until 1945 in terms of the War Measures Act No. 13.

A cartoonist’s impression of Dawood Seedat and Yusuf Dadoo during the Treason Trial

A cartoonist’s impression of Dawood Seedat and Yusuf Dadoo during the 1956 Treason Trial

Seedat was also a member of the Non-European United Front and the Natal Indian Congress (NIC). When the CPSA went underground after its banning in 1950, it was as a member of the NIC that Seedat was arrested for his participation in the 1955 Freedom Charter. Seedat stood alongside 156 comrades in what would become known as the Treason Trial, lasting for nearly four-and-a-half years, and drawing attention from around the world. The charges against Seedat were dropped on the 20th April 1959, but on the 31st March 1960, while occupying the position of vice-president of the NIC, Seedat was arrested yet again. Though the police files state that “nothing of evidential value was found in his possession”, he was only released on the 5th July. A few years later, in January 1964, Seedat and his wife, Fatima, a well known activist in her own right, were banned for five years, which was extended for a further five years years in 1969. 

Dawood Seedat passed away in 1976, having dedicated much of his life to the struggle for freedom. In acknowledgement of the courage of Dawood Seedat the Phoenix branch of the South African Communist Party (formerly the CPSA) is named in his honour.

Images courtesy of www.sahistory.org.za and www.academia.edu

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