29 November 2023

Three small parties will going to Parliament for the first time, among them Ganief Hendricks’ Al Jama-ah Party, writes Karabo Mafolo of the Daily Maverick.

A party that has been around for 12 years, the Al Jama-ah party, finally managed to score enough votes for a seat in Parliament. The party had nine ward councillors in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and Gauteng. Now, the party’s leader and founder, Ganief Hendricks, will be taking the single parliamentary seat the party won.

Hendricks says he started Al Jama-ah, which means ubuntu in kiSwahili, because the Muslim population was often ignored in politics.

“Muslims don’t have a voice. Our marriages are not recognised, our children, when they’re born, are illegitimate and when you die your death certificate says ‘never married’,” said Hendricks.

Hendricks felt let down that even though there were Muslim lawmakers in Parliament, they did not prioritise Muslim people’s rights.

“They toe the party line, they didn’t want to be seen to be pushing the Muslim agenda. We’re talking about personal law rights, we’re not talking about the other big stuff, like the Sharia which is the criminal law of Islam,” Hendricks told Daily Maverick. Al Jama-ah was formed in 2007 in a mosque in Lansdowne, Cape Town. “I was very happy (because) most of our votes came from Lansdowne – the place where we started the party and launched the party. They were the founding members,” said Hendricks. “So, for 12 years they stuck with us and the only way you can measure that is by their vote.”

Those 12 years weren’t always smooth sailing. In the 2016 municipal elections, Hendricks says, the party’s former general secretary broke ranks. “He hijacked the party, told the IEC I’m no longer the president. Then he wrote to the IEC that I was expelled from the party, so I was removed from the IEC as the representative of the party,” Hendricks told Daily Maverick.

Hendricks then lodged a complaint with the IEC and it investigated the matter. “After a month they sent a letter of apology. For one month since the party’s formation, I was left out in the cold.”

Despite Hendricks wanting to add Muslim representation into South African politics, he says he’s faced a lot of opposition from Muslim leaders. “When we went to visit them (Muslim leaders) to say we’re starting a party, they said ‘no, we don’t want the party. We’re not going to support you, we’ll tell people to vote ANC or the DA’,” Hendricks told Daily Maverick.

He believes that Muslim leaders refuse to openly support his party because they don’t want to lose favour with the bigger parties.

“They (Muslim leaders) feel ‘let’s give the ANC a chance’ so that they can get the mosque grounds and tenders. ‘If we openly support the ANC, they’ll do this for us’.

“Similarly, in the Western Cape, the Muslim Judicial Council, they say they support the ANC but they’re actually in bed with the DA,” said Hendricks.

In a move to reach younger voters, they worked with the Progressive Student Movement, which targeted the “matrics and first years across the religious spectrum”.

A few political parties added young people to their party lists and Al Jama-ah was no exception. Nontebeko Aisha Mkhwanazi, a 20-year-old, was second on the party list. “The number two spot (on the party’s candidate list) we gave to a black female, wearing the hijab, and she’s a radio personality. It shows that we’re making a bold statement to bring a Black Muslim into the mainstream Muslim fold,” said Hendricks.

“The black Muslims didn’t vote for her,” he says, disgruntled. Most of the party’s votes came from middle-class areas. These are areas that Hendricks described as “places where people can think and make up their own minds”. Even then, Hendricks says, “a lot of black people voted for us, not the Muslims.”

But Hendricks is optimistic about the party’s future even though he says Muslim leaders have rejected his party.

On Saturday, 11 May 2019, when the IEC announced the final results in Pretoria, Hendricks managed to speak to Cyril Ramaphosa.

“Before I left I greeted him and I said, “Mr President, I’m waiting for your call and I’m ready to serve.” DM

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