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Coming to Grips with Islamist Radicalization in South Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon

March 25, 2013


Coming to Grips with Islamist Radicalization in South Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 1 (2013), Number 7 (March 2013)

When discussing issues of radicalization in Africa, commentators often examine the case of Somalia’s Al Shabaab or Al Qaeda’s North African franchise – Al Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb. Very little attention is paid to radicalization amongst South Africa’s Muslim population which comprises a paltry two percent of the total population. Is radical Islamism spreading in South Africa? The answer has to be an emphatic yes. One could, of course, look at various publications and websites spewing forth this Islamist rage but one of the most interesting is an interview which Khadija Abdul Qaheeer conducted with Mustafa Jonker, one of the men arrested in a Muizenberg, Cape Town police raid for allegedly attempting to start a terror campaign in South Africa. Whilst excerpts from the interview are long, it provides fascinating insights into the Islamist mindset:

Mustafa Jonker: ‘I, like thousands of Muslims like me, am concerned at the plight of the oppressed in general and the Muslim Ummah in particular which over the last century has witnessed an unprecedented onslaught from global disbelief. I realized from an early age that America is the main source of this global tyranny by her directly invading Muslim lands and killing their people and also by supporting apostate governments that subdue their people on her behalf. We returned to South Africa in 1999 [from Saudi Arabia] and I soon realized that while the racist apartheid regime had been removed, this new “democracy” had come about by the ANC selling South Africa to multi-national corporations. The ANC has a history of concern for only the middle and upper class blacks. The result of this treachery is a symbolic multicultural government which is dictated by and passes laws on behalf of mainly European and American companies, the same Crusader nations pillaging Afghanistan and Iraq today. Today South Africa has the biggest gap between rich and poor in the world; a direct result of the government’s neoliberal capitalist policies. A wealthy elite owns South Africa’s wealth, while 30 million people suffer from poverty. Resulting from this poverty is crime of which South Africa has the highest statistics in the world as well. I began advocating as Allah commanded direct action against the Crusader-Zionist alliance and her pawns in power and this is the background behind my being labelled a terrorist. As far as this word goes, it is a label placed on anyone challenging the greedy bloodthirsty agenda of the West and I therefore take a pride in it. Ours is a blessed terror that desires to see an end to America’s oppression ….it is a fact that the Jews around the world using the Crusaders are the main benefactors of the global campaign against Islam…. Jews like the Oppenheimers have a monopoly over South Africa’s resources and their banks ensure that the “goyim” as they call the suffering masses are kept in a state of debt slavery. They use Usury which Allah forbade them from practicing, to turn free people into slaves. Africa in particular is suffering from great debts owed to these prophet murderers and it is therefore not surprising that the bulk of attacks on Jews outside the Holy Land has been in Africa. Over the last few years, Mujahideen have attacked the Jews in Mombasa in East Africa, they attacked them in Tunisia and Egypt in North Africa and they attacked the Israeli embassy in Mauritania in West Africa and we don’t consider the Muslims here in South Africa to be any less determined to punish the Jews for spreading corruption over Allah’s earth. The Muslims in South Africa hold a special place in their hearts for their suffering brethren in Palestine and perhaps amongst them are those who pledged to fight until the Bastard State of Israel is eradicated and have pledged to pray in Masjid al-Aqsa as conquerors or to meet Allah on the way …. We are witnessing the prediction of Sheikh Osama bin Laden come true when he said, “America by picking a war with the sons of the Arabian peninsula will experience things that will make them forget all about the horrors of Vietnam and that America will turn into a shadow of her former self”’.[1]

We should, however, not merely dismiss Mr. Jonker’s view as representing some minority fringe element in South African Muslim society. In an address to a conference in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg,  on 14 January 2009, former South African Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fatima Hajaig is alleged to have said: ‘They [the Jews] control [America] no matter which government comes into power, whether Republican or Democrat, whether Barrack Obama or George Bush …Their control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money and when Jewish money controls their country then you can expect anything’.[2] How are the views expressed by the Honourable Fatima Hajaig any different from the anti-semitic views of Mr. Jonker? The South African Jewish Board of Deputies decided to lodge a complaint of hate speech against Ms. Hajaig with the Human Rights Commission. As its Chairman, Zev Krengel stated, ‘The decision to lodge the complaint had not been taken lightly, but there had not been any realistic alternative. Not since the era of pro-Nazi Nationalist MPs more than half a century ago had such statements been made against Jews by a senior government official’.[3]

Indeed analysts have increasingly demonstrated concern over a worrying trend of the internalization of the Islamist discourse by local Muslims. Indeed John Solomon argues that ‘…an equally worrying development is that opinion leaders in South Africa’s Muslim community demonstrate an implicit acceptance of jihadi discourse’.[4]

Given the ideological basis of the threat of Islamist terrorism, it is imperative that the South African government identify processes and institutions contributing to the radicalization of its Muslim population – be it the mosque and madressah or specific charismatic individuals or specific media outlets and then find the means to neutralize these. It is here, however, that Pretoria has proved an utter failure – government intelligence services seem to be more focused on internal political squabbles of the ruling African National Congress than focus on a very real terror threat within its borders. The consequences of this neglect on the part of South Africa’s security services are self-evident. There is growing evidence that South Africa has come to play an important role in global jihadi networks from the provision of safehouses and identity documents to the movement of funds and the existence of paramilitary camps for local and foreign jihadis. Moreover there is ample evidence which points to South Africa serving as an operational base from which to plan attacks in countries as far afield as Germany and the United Kingdom.[5] Indeed since the 1980s with South African Muslims receiving military training in Libya and Pakistan, South Africa has seen the steady rise of Islamist militancy.

In 1996 Israel lodged a formal complain to the South African government regarding the existence of five Hezbollah training camps. In 1997, Hamas representatives on a visit to South Africa, assessed the training at the paramilitary camps. This prompted then South African President Thabo Mbeki to ask the National Intelligence Agency in 1998 to report on Hamas and its activities in South Africa. In October 1999, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, part of the Al Qaeda cell that attacked US embassies in East Africa, was arrested in Cape Town. Between 1998 and 2000 the Islamist-oriented People Against Gangsterism and Drugs were blamed for a series of bombings, including the 25th August 1998 Planet Hollywood bomb blast.  Legal proceedings against PAGAD, however, were frustrated by the abduction and killing of state witnesses like Ebrahim Gallie in February 2000. This prompted the US State Department to designate  PAGAD as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2001. By 2002 both the National Intelligence Agency and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued warnings that South Africa was being used to raise funds and as a safe haven for international terrorists. In 2003, a more ominous development occurred with the arrest of the Tunisian Ihsan Garnaoui in Germany for attempting terror attacks in that country – the planning was done whilst Garnaoui was in South Africa.

In July 2004 two Pretoria resident – Zubeir Ismail and Dr. Feroz Ganchi, were arrested in  Pakistan, caught in an Al Qaeda safe hourse with senior Al Qaeda commander Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. By the following month, South African police intelligence agents confirmed the existence of a terror plot to target South Africa. In July 2006, the alleged ringleader of a plot to down seven-trans-Atlantic flights from Britain, arrives in London via South Africa.  In December 2006, two more state witnesses in a terrorism trial in South Africa – Yusuf and Fahiema Enous – are killed whilst under witness protection. In 2007, alleged Al Qaeda financier Ali Tantouche was given asylum in South Africa. In August 2008, two South Africans were detained at Entebbe Airport by the Ugandan Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force.

By October 2009, the South African Police Services, the National Intelligence Agency and American agency launched a joint operation to foil a plot to attack the 2010 World Cup. By June 2010 media reports pointed to the existence of terror training camps in South Africa.[6] For this reason, the phenomenon of Islamist radicalization needs to be taken seriously in South Africa.

[1] Khadija A Qahaar, Exclusive Interview With Mustafa Jonker: “Ours Is A Blessed Terror”, March 2008, (accessed 16 February 2010).

[2] Jews take minister to court, Independent Online, 28 January 2009, (accessed 15 June 2009).   

[3] Ibid.

[4] John Solomon, New Report of Terrorism Camp in South Africa, Terrorism Focus 4(12) (2007), 2-4.

[5] Hussein Solomon, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in South Africa,  Journal of the Middle East and Africa 1(1) (2010), 2-4.

[6] Hussein Solomon, Researching Terrorism in South Africa: More Questions than Answers, Scientia Militaria: South African Journal of Military Studies Vol. 40 No. 2, pp. 142-165.

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