Abdullah Abdurahman (18 December 1872 – 2 February 1940) was a South African politician and physician, born in Wellington, South Africa. He was the first coloured city councillor of Cape Town, and leader of the anti-segregationist movement African Political Organization established in 1902.
Abdurahman was the son of relatively affluent Muslim Cape Malays, and his grandparents were black slaves who had bought their freedom. After receiving a "good" British education in Wellington and Cape Town, he went to the University of Glasgow to study medicine in 1888, qualifying as a doctor in 1893. Upon returning to South Africa he set up a thriving private practice in Cape Town.
Local government career
In 1904 he was elected Cape Town's first coloured city councillor, a position he held almost uninterrupted until his death. As city councillor he worked to improve the conditions of the coloured community, especially within the field of education; he helped set up the first secondary schools for coloured people in Cape Town. From 1923 to 1937 he chaired the Council's Streets and Drainage Committee, which gave him an increasingly strong influence on local government. Aburahman was also the first coloured person to be elected to the Cape Provincial Council in 1914, a position he held until his death.
African Political Organisation
The greatest political achievements, however, of Abdurahman’s political life, were connected to his involvement with the African Political Organisation. Elected president in 1905, his contribution to the party's success was so great that the party was often jokingly referred to as Abdurahman's Political Organisation. The party's goal was to fight the increasing racial oppression in the country, initially only on behalf of non-African coloured. Abdurahman unsuccessfully led two delegations to London to secure franchise rights for coloured before the creation of the Union of South Africa. Later, between 1927 and 1934, Abdurahman and his party would start working closer with black African political leaders, in an attempt to create a united front, but this came to little. By the late 1930s, other political parties, such as the more radical National Liberation League, had taken the initiative.
Death and legacy
On 2 February 1940, Abdurahman died of a cardiac arrest. His funeral was attended by over 30,000 people. After his death, the party he had built up went into rapid decline. His political legacy is a mixed one; modern, more radical commentators see him as overly accommodating to the white authorities, and as far as practical results are concerned, the achievements of his political career were limited. On the other hand, there is little doubt that he was the most powerful South African coloured politician of his time, and his popularity in the non-European community was immense, as was the respect he enjoyed with the white elite. In 1999, Nelson Mandela posthumously awarded Dr. Abdurahman the Order for Meritorious Service: Class 1 (Gold) for his work against racial oppression.
Abdurahman was married twice: once to the British Helen (Nellie) Potter James, whom he met in Glasgow. They had two daughters, Waradea "Rosie" and Zainunnisa (Cissie) Gool, and divorced in 1923. His younger daughter from this marriage, Cissie (1900–1963), became an important political figure in her own right, as a municipal councillor in Cape Town. His second marriage was in 1925 to Margaret May Stansfield. She bore him one daughter Begum (who married the physician Ralph Hendrickse), and two sons, Abdul and Nizam, all of whom survived him.