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Ask the Expert: Professor Hussein Solomon on Radical Islam in South Africa

May 9, 2013


Ask the Expert: Professor Hussein Solomon on Radical Islam in South Africa

May 9, 2013

1.       Have there been radical Islamic groups active in South Africa? If so, describe its activities. 

Yes, there have been radical Islamist groups active in South Africa. These include local groups like People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) who were responsible for an urban terror campaign in Cape Town in South Africa in the 1990s as well as external groups like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda offshoots such as Somalia’s Al Shabab. These latter groups have been described as either “sleeper cells” which in the case of Hezbollah might well be activated in the event of say an attack on Iran’s nuclear establishment or using South Africa to hide their key personnel in safe houses whilst using the country to source funds and training local Islamists. 

 2.       What are the factors which contributed to the rise of radical Islamic ideologies and movements in South Africa?

Since at least the 1980s there has been a steady rise of Islamist ideologies and movements in Africa. In the context of the apartheid struggle members of Qibla, for instance, received military training in place like Libya where they were exposed to such radical ideologies. There have also been radicalization in the form of what is being taught at madressahs and the sermons given on Fridays as both Iranian and Saudi seeks to influence the curriculum with their own brand of Islam. I also believe that in the context of a permissive environment where government has deluded themselves that they do not face a threat from Islamists they are also growing like a festering cancer. In addition, I believe that the environmental conditions add to the appeal of Islamism. When faced with spiralling crime rates and the inability of the security forces to protect citizens, one can understand the attractiveness of shari’a law. Moreover, there is the context of the endemic corruption in the government. This compares unfavourably with the image of an Islamic leader who acts in the interests of all his (there is no her in this Islamist nirvana) citizens. 

3.       What has been the attitude of the South African government towards the radical Islamic groups?

 This is the major reason why we have this problem in the country. The government, despite the 1990s urban terror campaign in Cape Town and various attempts to target the country since then believe that they are immune from terrorism on account of their opposing the US intervention in Iraq or their support for the Palestinian cause. Such thinking is rather naive in the extreme. Pretoria also holds to the old and incorrect adage “that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” pointing out that they (the ruling African National Congress) were once labeled as being terrorists on account of their militant opposition to the apartheid regime. Such a position, is problematic given the qualitative difference in the choice of targets and the limited political goals of the ANC compared to today’s latter-day jihadists.

4.       What are the regional dimensions of radical Islamic activities in South Africa?

The regional dimensions is growing at an incredible pace as interconnections between a variety of Islamists in different southern African countries take place. In May 2010 reports surfaced that militants from Pakistan and Somalia were running jihadi camps in northern Mozambique and that trainees who “graduated” from these were being infiltrated into South Africa. Similarly, connections between militants in Botswana and South Africa using the cover of used car dealerships were channeling funds to the operational cells.

5.       In your point of view, what are the best ways to respond to radical Islam and terrorism in South Africa?     

I believe first and foremost because of the attitude of the South African government discussed earlier there is no political will. So no strategy will work where there is no political will to implement a pro-active strategy of pre-emption. In terms of the strategy itself, this must be holistic. It would need to disrupt the pathways of radicalization and this would need an engagement with the Muslim community as well as blocking certain internet sites which have led to the phenomenon of “self-radicalization”. It would mean investing in hardening key sites (the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the Union Buildings) to prevent their being easily targeted. It would also entail the placement of long-term intelligence assets in key organizations to ensure that terrorists are pre-empted. It would mean the enhancement of our intelligence analysts skill sets and it would entail disrupting terrorists’ financial networks by working with the banking sector. It would also entail that corruption inside the Department of Home Affairs, which issues identity books and passports needs to be stopped as a matter of urgency. Given the regional and international dimensions of the threat, the Southern African Development Community’s Organ on Politics Defence, and Security Co-operation needs to be enhanced as well as the relationship with structures like Interpol.

  1. Dr Sikiru Eniola permalink

    The Professor’s view is too presumptive. Being active muslims or active and or vocal in Islamic activism does not and cannot be construed to be a recipe for terrorism.

  2. Thanks for your comment. To understand more on the South African situation I would suggest you see my article entitled Researching Terrorism in SA – republished by RIMA on this website.

  3. adam levy permalink

    you know what is startling about Professor Solomon’s allegations is that he does not produce an iota of evidence except conjecture and presumption. But this is the wont of security specialists – the only way you can justify your existence is to produce horrendous scenarios, that often bear no resemblance to reality.

    From the professors writing its seems as if South Africa is the hot-bed is Islamic radicalism. This is patent nonsense. The white right-wing (neo-nazis) are more of a threat.

  4. All I can say is that in my most recent research phenomenon on this issue I have consulted over 500 sources – there are all open sourced – all that I did was to connect the dots. As for the issue of the white right wing – I think they are so penetrated and so divided the best they can hope to do is engage in individual acts of violence not some coordinated attack on any specfic target

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