‘We had set a new history in motion’: The Night of Power at the Castle of Good Hope

Photo: Gasant Abarder

Photo: Gasant Abarder

Published Apr 19, 2023


They named it the Castle of Good Hope. What happened inside the walls of this pentagon was far from good. It was untold evil against the slaves of the Cape. When visited in the evening, especially, it is a rather spooky and eerie place.

But last Saturday, the Castle was occupied by the descendants of those slaves - five centuries later. A small group of Muslims and invited guests from other faiths used the very lawns that witnessed so many atrocities in the inner parts of this castle to break our fast.

To hear a young man among us make the call to prayer to break our fast was powerful as it bounced off the walls, where once only screams from the torture of slaves bounced back.

And then, we sat together to eat, made our sunset prayers, and later, even Taraweeh prayers - the special evening prayers during Ramadaan that are performed in congregation.

There is a night in Ramadaan that is the most significant of the holy month. It isn’t on a set date but usually falls on an odd night in the last 10 days of fasting – the 21st, 23rd, 25th, and so on. It is called Laylaa-Tul-Qadr, translated from Arabic as the night of power.

A night of power because the Holy Qur’an was revealed to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

You can never tell on which evening of the last 10 days it is, even though a date is allocated on the Islamic calendar. But it is described as a clear, windless night. The stars will be visible, and there won’t be a noise like the barking of a dog or the chirping of birds.

Dare I say, our night of power at the Castle had this perfect setting. There was something magical in the air – we were part of history. You could see the stars in the Cape Town CBD, and this doesn’t often happen.

Maybe, I had reached a different level of spiritual consciousness, too, because I could not hear the usual din of traffic either.

We were performing acts of worship on the very grounds that our slave ancestors in the 17th century would have been sentenced to death for doing.

Not tonight; in a free South Africa, we were occupying the land. And maybe, just maybe, we were giving some comfort to the lost souls who had died such violent deaths in the many dungeons and torture rooms in this place.

The Castle is a much-transformed place now and should be visited by all South Africans as it has begun to unravel the stories of Krotoa, the Khoi translator who was a thorn in the side of the Dutch colonisers.

There is a museum dedicated to Camissa, the underground water system that runs deep in the bowels of our city. And then my favourite: the Cape Muslim and Slave Heritage Museum.

The museum is filled with artefacts collected over many years by attorney Igshaan Higgins. He is an astute curator of the museum and writes incredible poetry to tell the story of early Cape Muslims and slaves from all parts of the world that were brought to the Cape by the Dutch colonisers.

Higgins is also the lawyer who won a landmark case almost two decades ago that set a precedent that inevitably empowers Muslim women in South Africa when it comes to inheritance. He has continued to fight for Muslim marriages to achieve legal status and be recognised in South African law – again, to protect the rights of Muslim women.

It was so fitting that Higgins was behind the idea of the picnic to break our fast on the lawns of the Castle. It was his pilot to see how things would work out, and I felt so privileged to be part of this special evening with my family, especially my elderly parents.

Among some of the illustrious guests were retired High Court Judge Siraj Desai and South African rugby Hall of Fame legend Faiek ‘Blatjang’ Hendricks.

Higgins has big plans for next year and intends to make this night an annual tradition. It was a night we took back our power in the Castle – the sons and daughters of slaves who were centuries ago persecuted at this place.

We had set a new history in motion.

* Gasant Abarder, who recently launched his book, Hack with a Grenade, is among the country’s most influential media voices. Catch his weekly column, exclusive to Cape {town} Etc.