UCT historian unearths the influence of the Ottoman Empire on present day Cape Malay culture.

Effendi with students in Castle Street 1909. Supplied

Effendi with students in Castle Street 1909. Supplied

Published Sep 18, 2021


Halim Gençoğlu says that this history needs to be taught to get an understanding of the community’s role in the struggle

Cape Town - Historian and postdoctoral research fellow in African Studies at UCT, Halim Gençoğlu who made headline for uncovering UCT’s first black medical doctor, is again in the limelight, for unpacking the influence and legacy of the Ottoman Empire and its influence on present day Cape Malay culture.

Achmat Effendi who stood seat in Cape Parliament in 1894. First black person who attempted to gain entry into Cape Legislative Assembly. Supplied

“I discovered that the first medical doctor of UCT was the grandson of Turkish professor Abu Bakr Effendi, Muhammed Shukri. After his schooling at Trafalgar high school, he pursued his tertiary education between 1935 - 1941, and graduated as a first non-white medical student from the University of Cape Town. His name must be given to one of the buildings in the medical school at UCT and teach this heritage to students in this way.”

“His cousin Rushdi Ataullah became the first non-white pilot in South Africa. South African freedom fighter and poet Ismail Africa who was called Tatamkhulu Afrika by Nelson Mandela was also of Turkish origin. However, all these important figures became forgotten under the Apartheid regime. Today very little is known about them.”

Arrival of Effendi in Cape Town in 1863. Supplied

Gençoğlu says believed that this culture and history should be taught not only within coloured and Muslim communities but in South Africa as a whole in recognition of the heritage of our history.

“When we pass by Wale Street, we will be more careful if we know the story of the property at 71 Wale Street. It was the house of a Turkish professor Mahmud Fakih Effendi̇ who died at his residence which is the Bokaap museum at the present. We should teach how our ancestors had struggled with the racist regime in South Africa, and thus we can get lessons from this past to build a better future.”

Humanities student at UCT Abdud-Daiyaan Petersen believes that the Ottoman relations with Capetonian Muslims is an important topic for students of colour to learn. He said that it more than unearths the forgotten history of Cape Muslims and their contribution to equity, but also other minority groups who played an important role at the time.

“The Ottoman archives provide a non-western approach to archival research which can be utilised by students of colour who have the intention of decolonising historical research,” Petersen said

Senior Research Associate Sandra Rowoldt Shell, PhD, said it was sad that none of our Cape historians has had this advantage so it brought unique new knowledge into our understanding of the early Cape with “such great depth and understanding”.

She stated that the knowledge of the Effendi families and the unpacking of several archives of early achievements in Cape Town meant a great deal in facilitating reconciliation of old rifts in the Cape Muslim community at large.

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