The Arabic Afrikaans Writing Tradition (November 2023, Paperback) Achmat Davids, Hein Willemse, Suleman E. Dangor

Jacana Media is delighted to make available again a classic work of South African hidden history, that of the Arabic Afrikaans literary tradition. Previously published in 2010 as The Afrikaans of the Cape Muslims from 1815 to 1915, this edition carries a new introduction by Heinrich Willemse. Read more below.

Achmat Davids, Hein Willemse, Suleman E. Dangor


Available on back-order


Afrikaans developed when slaves in the Cape adapted Dutch – the language of the rulers – for their own use. Many years later Afrikaans was hijacked by some white Afrikaners as ‘their language’, but Davids proved beyond doubt that it was the descendants of the slaves, not their masters, who first wrote Afrikaans.

“…Davids straddled different fields and roles: unlike the linguists, he was also an historian and a community leader with deep roots in the Muslim community of Cape Town. He first established himself in the 1980s as an expert on 19th-century Cape Muslim history with two books, The Mosques of the Bo-Kaap (1980) and The History of the ana Baru, (1985). His work contributed much to inspire a new generation of historians of the colonial Cape to write more inclusive histories, which also paid attention to Islam. Thus, when Achmat Davids turned his attention to the contribution of Cape Muslims to the history of Afrikaans, he did so with a foremost knowledge of their socio-cultural history and with extensive access to informants and (private) sources which probably no other individual could have commanded. For this reason, this book is of as much importance to historians of the colonial Cape as it is to historians of the Afrikaans language and South African Islamic culture.” –Gerald Groenewald

The focus of this book is the Arabic-Afrikaans literary tradition of the Cape Muslim community. It looks at the emergence of this tradition at the Cape of Good Hope, as well as the social vehicles through which it emerged and through which it was in use. This is done through an examination of the literature, in the form of manuscripts and publications, it generated during the first hundred years of its existence.

Importantly, the book looks at the development of the distinctive Arabic alphabet that local Arabic-Afrikaans authors used to convey accurately this community’s mother tongue.

The history of the Afrikaans language is still very little understood and discussed, and this book illuminates the extraordinary story of its beginnings, with slaves and colonisers, with Xam!, Indonesians, Malaysians, Turks and imams of all stripes. It’s a wonderfully rich story told in detail here, with verve and a keen ear for story.

About the authors:

The late Achmat Davids, fondly known as ‘Apatjie’, is seen as an icon of the Bo Kaap community. The educationalist gave a voice to the religious, cultural and racial identity of Bo-Kaap in his many books and research papers. Dr Davids’s major contribution is his rereading of Arabic-Afrikaans texts in terms of the Islamic reading practice of tajweed. He traced the emergence of Afrikaans a’jami texts, Afrikaans texts written in Arabic script and distributed or published at the Cape of Good Hope, since the early nineteenth century. Through this, he was able to determine what early Afrikaans sounded like. During his research, he discovered a fascinating relationship between the Afrikaans language and the literature of the Cape Muslim community. He was also instrumental in the social welfare of the community and was key to the establishment of the Boorhaanol Movement to whom he had dedicated most of his adult life. Achmat Davids was known to many more, as one of the pioneers of the Voice of the Cape radio station, where he served as programme manager.

Hein Willemse retired in 2022 as as head of the Department of Afrikaans at the University of Pretoria. He is a former president of ISOLA (The International Society for the Oral Literatures of Africa), and was editor-in-chief of the journal Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, a journal for African literature from 2003 until 2019. Willemse played an active role in anti apartheid movement, and along with other Afrikaans authors – including André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach and Etienne van Heerden – attended the historical Victoria Falls Writers’ Conference in 1989, where various Afrikaans intellectuals met with banned South African authors and members of the ANC. Hein is a widely published author and poet.

Suleman E. Dangor is Professor Emeritus of Islamic Studies in the School of Religion and Theology at the University of KwaZulu Natal, He is of the great historians of Islam in South Africa and in the related fields of history, language, education, politics and gender. Dangor is a widely published writer. He studied in Riyadh, speaks Arabic, and is a specialist in the Arabic Afrikaans writing tradition