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Monday, May 16, 2022

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My Fellow South Africans: Zackie Achmat

Zackie Achmat, and his beloved dog Nawal. photographed by Henk Kruger (African News Agency/ANA)

Zackie Achmat, and his beloved dog Nawal. photographed by Henk Kruger (African News Agency/ANA)

Published Apr 27, 2022


“Let me tell you what I really love about the city,” activist Zackie Achmat tells us, sitting on the stoep of a coffee shop close to Cape Town’s historic St George’s Mall. “The (Cape Town) city CBD is the most wonderful place to be. You can hear everything from Farsi to Arabic to Swahili, French, Portuguese and many South African languages.”

The well known activist is currently working on the Fix Our Trains campaign and is also in the process of starting a paralegal school.

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Achmat has with him his beloved dog, Nawal.

“I love dogs,” something Achmat says not many people know about him. “I lived with dogs for the last 17 years. As a child you couldn’t get me near a dog, and I think that was the experience of most black people.

“Especially with white people’s dogs.”

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Achmat says he had three options of what he wanted to be when he grew up: writer, dress designer, or doctor – something his parents wanted for him.

“But in 1976 my life changed, and I became a political activist.”

Had he the chance to speak to his 15-year-old self, he’d tell himself to be relaxed.

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“I love getting older. Most important thing, never take yourself too seriously and secondly it's critical to struggle to change things, but always know that you can either win or lose; ultimately your happiness and the happiness of other people is more important than anything you do,” Achmat says.

My Fellow South Africans: Zackie Achmat with his beloved dog, Nawal. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

While Achmat loves the city’s CBD, he remains deeply concerned about the lasting effect apartheid spatial planning has had.

“But the beauty of the city – it’s kept clean, everything is run efficiently in the inner city including most of the suburbs.

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“The sad thing for me is the continued spatial apartheid which has gotten worse. In many ways it copies the rest of the country. All RDP homes are way out, they are dumping grounds for people.

“Working class people from Bonteheuwel, Manenberg and Khayelitsha are not safe. Here in the inner city I feel safe all the time,” Achmat says.

“And we can change it.”

Achmat says the words of revolutionary and anti-war activist Rosa Luxemburg continue to resonate with him.

“My culture is an invented culture. It’s invented because I grew up... my ancestors are slaves, they are settlers, they are local.

“As a socialist I will simply reiterate what Rosa Luxemburg said: I am at home in the entire world, where there are clouds and birds and human tears.”