Ottoman writings exhibited at South African university


Descendants of prominent Ottoman scholars and activists have donated Ottoman manuscripts, documents and rare books written in Afrikaans using the Arabic script to the University of Cape Town (UCT), with the documents clearly indicating an early link between Turkey and South Africa.

Halim Gencoglu, a Turkish national and scholar at UCT’s Centre for African Studies told Anadolu Agency that the library’s Special Collections department of the university launched an exhibition last week to showcase manuscripts and books in the families’ possession.

The exhibition was aimed at exploring traces of the Ottoman Empire at the Cape of Good Hope, where Cape Town is now located.

“These documents, books and manuscripts were found in the personal archives of the Ottoman families in South Africa,” he said, adding that this was the first time that prominent Ottoman families were sharing their archives with researchers.

Some of the documents were about a well-known Ottoman scholar, Abu Bakr Effendi who was sent to South Africa in the nineteenth century by Sultan Abdulaziz Khan to teach Islam to the Cape Muslim community .

His legacy can still be felt more than 150 years later through his writings as well as the accounts and activities of his descendants who have lived in South Africa for five generations now.

The exhibition was attended by more than 50 people and was launched at a special lunch meeting in the Jagger Library in Cape Town, with the aim of celebrating the rich untold history and influence of the Muslim community of Cape Town.


“The display also commemorated the role of anti-racism activist Mahmud Hashim Pasha, a man of the Ottoman origin, who played a significant role in shaping the history of South African Black identity,” said Gencoglu.

He added that the pasha protested alongside South African activists like Sol Plaatje against racial discrimination, particularly the 1913 Land Act in the country that experienced years of racial segregation.

“The event provided a wonderful opportunity to highlight such material as rich, untapped, alternative sources for South African historiography,” he added.

Some of the honorary guests at the exhibition included representatives of the Ottoman families such as Aisha Pasha, Hesham Neamatollah Effendi, Rushdi Guven Atala, Mohamed Nathri Effendi and Christopher Wake Walker.

The exhibition was the first to receive official recognition by a South African university.

The commemoration was arranged by Director of Special Collections at UCT, Michal Singer and Senior Librarian, Clive Kirkwood, among others.
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