The Indonesian Connection – Islam in South Africa


During my exploration in the beautiful city of Cape Town, I came across a most remarkable tale. It is the story of one man’s perseverance against immense odds and the profound influence he left on a society hundreds of years later.

It is the story of how Islam spread in South Africa, from Cape Town through a man from Indonesia who was jailed in Robben Island (the very same island another great man was jailed for 27 years almost two centuries later – Nelson Mandela) by the Dutch. Globalisation was very much a part of life then as it is now! Robben Island also has now the dubious distinction of having hosted (against their will) of a number of great reformers!

This is the story of how the Auwal Mosque came to be in the Bo-Kaap (the Cape Malay part of Cape Town) and the fascinating tale of a man fondly known by all as Tuan Guru (or Sir Teacher in Malay).

Auwal Mosque, Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Tuan Guru or Imam Abdullah Qadhu Abdus Salaam (born 1712)was a man belonging to royalty from the Sultanate of Tidore ( part of the Maluku Islands in Indonesia). Abdullah led the Indonesian resistance against the Dutch invasion in the 1700s until he was finally captured along with a handful of other Indonesian resistance fighters. (It is worth bearing in mind that the Dutch East India Company brought slaves, political exiles and other prisoners from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Ceylon amongst other places to South Africa from the 1700s onwards).

The Dutch made it a point to remove all religious paraphernalia especially the Quran from Abdullah and his men before they were sent into exile to Robben Island. The rationale for this was that by removing Islamic religious material, Abdullah will not be able to propagate Islam in South Africa and in the process curtail his ability to lead a religious resistance against them.

Abdullah was incarcerated in Robben Island from 1780 to 1792. Now, the Dutch were confident that Abdullah’s ability to preach Islam was going to be limited due to the lack of religious materials. However what they failed to understand that merely removing the Quran physically from Abdullah wasn’t going to be sufficient because Imam Abdullah was a hafiz or someone who had committed the entire Quran to memory.

During his time on Robben Island, Imam Abdullah wrote several copies of the Quran entirely from memory, two of which are preserved top this day. One of the handwritten copies is now on display at the Auwal Mosque in Bo-Kaap in Cape Town. Imam Abdullah also wrote a book on Islamic Jurisprudence which became a reference manual for Muslims in South Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. Imam Abdullah did not allow his incarceration to fulfill what he felt was his manifest destiny nor quench his zeal to remain free spiritually whilst he was imprisoned.

One of the remaining copies of the handwritten Quran by Tuan Guru at the Auwal Mosque in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

When Imam Abdullah was released, he was already 81 but that did not dampen his enthusiasm nor his sense of purpose. He stayed on in Bo-Kaap in Cape Town and started the first madarasah or Islamic School and he taught Islam and Arabic to freed slaves. Over time, he also organised prayers and established the first mosque, the Auwal mosque in 1794

Tuan Guru (Imam Abdullah) teaching children at his madrasah. An mural in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town


It is worth bearing in mind that the practice or indeed the propagation of Islam was deemed a criminal offence until 1804. It was Tuan Guru’s unstinting efforts that led to the establishment of the first mosque in Southern Africa.

Auwal Mosque (est 1794) in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town
Interior of Auwal Mosque

Imam Abdullah or Tuan Guru died when he was 95 (in 1807) and left behind the foundations of what is Islam in South Africa today. Tuan Guru remains a testament to the indomitable spirit and will to effect change in a society despite the challenges and opposition to any reforms. This remains inspiring today as it was over two centuries ago.

Mural depicting the development of Islam in South Africa, Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Indonesia’s Economy – Opportunities and Challenges – notes from a lecture by Bapak Gita Wirjawan, Minister for Trade, Indonesia

ImageS Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) Distinguished Public Lecture by Bapak Gita Wirjawan, (GW) Minister of Trade, The Republic of Indonesia. (2nd September 2013, Pan Pacific Singapore) on “Indonesia’s Economy: Future Challenges and Opportunities.”

I had the pleasure of attending the distinguished public lecture by Pak Gita last week and I wanted to share some salient points from the discussions


Key highlights and introduction

  • July results for trade is a continuation of the trends observed in June – and are actually worse. (There was a US$2.3 billion trade deficit in July 2013 alone – cumulative deficit of US$6 billion for the whole of 2013). (Click here to see news on the latest trade deficit)
  • Continued outflow of capital resulting in a downward pressure on the currency.
  • The ongoing slowdown in Europe and uncertainty in the US/Middle-east is also having knock-on effects on Indonesia.
  • We are witnesseing a “recalibration of the global economic outlook.”
  • However, Indonesia has seen significant progress made under the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) presidency – Under Sukarno’s era, the GDP per capita was around US$500 per  capita – this went up to US$1,200 under the Suharto era. However the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-1998 had a catastrophic impact on Indonesia, where the GDP per capital plummeted to US$600 per capita. Indonesia also very narrowly avoided the Balkanisation of the country during that period.
  • After the political reforms post-Suharto, GDP climbed steadily to US$1,100 under the Megawati presidency and today (2013), the GBP per capita has just about exceeded US$5,000 per capita under the SBY presidency. This has also resulted in the increased purchasing power of Indonesia leading to heightened domestic consumption, particularly from a growing middle class.


Can Indonesia emerge from the middle-income trap?

  • Indonesia’s improved its policy and position in the fiscal space.
  • However in the social space, the gini coefficient (one indicator of income inequality) has risen, which implies a widening income gap and disparity. This remains a critical issue which the government needs to resolve.
  • Furthermore, there is still an over-reliance on the commodities sector which is prone to very violent swings and shocks.
  • Infrastructure development remains a challenge for the country.
  • The needs to be further work done in the educational space as well.


Education and the economy

  • In 15 years, there will be 150 million Indonesians under the age of 30.
  • There remains an urgent need to sharpen the educational infrastructure.
  • As GW says, “It is important that we need a good runway, not just to land, but to also support us in taking off.”
  • Between 2012-2022 – it is estimated that Indonesia’s accumulated GDP be will be over US$60 trillion – on a cumulative basis.
  • There needs to be a supply side narrative to realise this estimated accumulated GDP and that remains the challenge.
  • The SBY government leaves a sustained economic trajectory for Indonesia.


The woe of the number of taxpayers (or lack thereof!)

  • For an economy in the top 20 largest economies grouping – the G20 – there are fewer than 20 million tax payers! (comparatively?)


Indonesia and her geopolitical relevance

  • GW highlighted the example of how South Korea has used its soft power effectively (from Gangnam style to Samsung products) to drive international trade and economic growth. What can Indonesia do to achieve a similar impact?
  • GW also highlighted that Indonesia has the ability to develop a high degree of political relevance because:
    • Indonesia has the potential to serve as the ‘middle power’ to narrow the gap between the Middle-East and the West
    • Indonesia can also narrow and bridge the gap between China and the US (a slightly debatable claim?!)
    • However, Indonesia needs sustained political order in order to develop and create this geopolitical relevance.
      • Indonesia must engage in Democracy 2.0 – the next iteration of her democratic freedoms enjoyed post-Suharto.
      • Improve her manufacturing and technological sector (invest in high-quality and high-yield technology and sectors).
      • Without Democracy 2.0 – it is highly unlikely that Indonesia will sustain her political and economic reforms and progress. Areas such as corruption must be tackled with and though there has been some good initial progress, this must remain sustained for there to be tangible returns and a progressive shift.

Indonesia as the ‘middle power’

  • Indonesia believes in regional cohesion and solidatiry.
  • ASEAN is a great example of multilateralism – socio-political, cultural and economic solidarity have helped ASEAN overcome initial challenges and be a more cohesive and effective regional bloc.


The future of Indonesia

  • Indonesia must continue her path of bundling pluralism and democracy.
  • Economic growth must be achieved hand in hand with economic equity – otherwise the unbalanced growth will have severe social impacts and fractures.
  • Without this economic equity – all of the work being undertaken now will be an exercise in failure.
  • This will take time to achieve.
  • Indonesians have now come much closer together than ever before (Indonesia has the second highest Facebook usage and the third most users on Twitter).
  • Indonesia and Indonesians must have the ability to say and proclaim that they have the wherewithal to move on with the necessary reforms and changes required for Indonesia’s sustained progress.


Corporate responsibility for small businesses in Indonesia – At a tipping point?

First published in BritCham Indonesia magazine Up.Date – February 2012 edition

Corporate responsibility for small businesses in Indonesia – At a tipping point? 

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “The Tipping Point” describes how sometimes little things can make a significant difference and lead to sparks in trends and monumental shifts in mindsets.

In the same way, the themes of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in Indonesia stand on the verge of a paradigm shift and will likely change the way these businesses operate and function.  CSR and sustainability can be defined as a company’s commitment towards the integration of economic growth, environmental management and social equity in a way that meets the needs of its stakeholders, now and for the future.
SMEs are an important part of Indonesia’s economy. They comprise 99% of all establishments and employ almost 90% of the workforce. Indonesia is home to many dynamic and vibrant SMEs contributing to more than half of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP).Accordingly, the success in promoting SMEs is widely recognized as critical to long-term sustainable economic growth. As a result of this aggregate influence, SMEs have an immense environmental and societal impact and will increasingly play an influential role in the sustainability agenda.

Internationally, innovation in many countries is taking place in garage workshops and factories of SMEs. It would be overly presumptuous therefore to assume that all expertise and good CSR practices are solely the domain of the larger multinational firms. Indeed, despite resource constraints and a highly competitive market place, SMEs around the world are achieving commercial success by incorporating elements of good environmental and societal practices within their businesses.

The factors leading to the tipping point 

Increasingly SMEs are showing greater commitment to environmental, social and community responsibility. There are a number of reasons why there has been a shift in the mindsets of SMEs leading to a tipping point in favour of greater sustainability.

The personal values and passion of the founders and owners of SMEs play a huge role in driving CSR for their businesses. SMEs that have the benefit of founders whose personal convictions, values and ethical core philosophy shape the business strategy and operations will inevitably have sound CSR practices implemented within.

Another key factor driving SMEs towards sustainability is that the implementation of CSR initiatives within a firm has a compelling business case. It helps minimise risks and maximise opportunities for SMEs. The introduction of social and environmental supply chain requirements has led to SMEs implementing a CSR framework within their organisations. Larger multinationals are now looking to increase the level of transparency and clarity within their supply chains. They demand greater accountability from their suppliers as part of their due diligence. Therefore, SMEs that display greater transparency and clarity about their sustainability and CSR practices are better positioned to effectively compete in the larger global supply chain of multinationals and in the process improve their overall revenue and profitability.

A good CSR and sustainability framework for SMEs will also become crucial as they seek to attract, retain and develop motivated employees and increase their sense of identity and belonging to the company. As the knowledge-based economy puts a greater premium on human capital; attracting and retaining capable individuals will become a critical factor for SMEs to effectively compete and survive a highly-competitive market. The younger generation of employees are looking towards job fulfilment, good working conditions, responsible employers and a good work-life balance. SMEs that can demonstrate their commitment to corporate responsibility and are transparent about their sustainability practices will attract the talented staff they require.

Sustainability is about being efficient, delivering a better product or service using as few resources as possible, and incorporating sound and responsible practices within the entire business operation to become more competitive. This encourages a culture of innovation and creativity within SMEs which will in turn give the SMEs a competitive advantage in a resource-constrained world. Furthermore, there will be product, market and process innovation which will be instrumental in differentiating an SME from its competitors. It may also be integral to driving down costs and attracting new customers, leading to improved overall profitability. The impacts CSR has on the bottom line have been essential in the growing role of CSR amongst SMEs.

An SME’s commitment to good CSR practices has also been vital in mitigating the effects of rising costs. For instance, an SME that is committed to reducing its carbon footprint and greater environmental stewardship will look to implementing energy efficient measures within its workplace, reduce wastage and effectively address production inefficiencies. This will have the effect of controlling the cost profile which is especially essential for an SME looking to properly manage its finances.
Another key driver responsible for the take-up of CSR and sustainability practices amongst SMEs is the growing importance of trust and reputation in a closely networked economy. There is a great deal of currency placed on relationships in a highly inter-connected world and good CSR practices will be essential for an SME seeking to interface effectively with all its different stakeholders. Stakeholders; both internal (including employees, customers and suppliers) and external (including the community, government, regulators and the general public); increasingly demand from businesses responsible practices that focus not only on the financial gains but also proper management of the businesses’ impacts on the environment and the wider society in which it operates.

Commercial success will increasingly be redefined not merely in terms of profitability but in terms of a positive impact on the environment as well as society. This is why SMEs must focus on how they can implement sustainability issues within their businesses to ensure lasting success.

The obstacles that may arise in an SME’s journey towards sustainability 

Despite the powerful arguments in favour of CSR for SMEs, they may still face some obstacles that may prevent them from incorporating CSR initiatives. Firstly, SMES operate in a highly competitive environment and are therefore forced to prioritise day-to-day operations and short-term cash flow issues over long-term sustainability.

They may face staff resource constraints and hence may not have enough staff to deal with and implement CSR initiatives within their businesses. Also, they may not have the necessary finances, resources or time to focus on environmental and social issues. A perception also arises that implementing CSR and sustainability initiatives within an SME may be too costly. They may also incorrectly assume that CSR and sustainability are matters that belong exclusively in the domain of big businesses and may not fully realise that their collective impacts on the environment and society can be significant.
Another obstacle that is faced is that SMEs may lack awareness of the business benefits arising through CSR practices. This failure to fully understand the significant capacity and value that good CSR practices will imbue an SME with, will severely hinder its development of good sustainability initiatives within the business.
One other issue that SMEs normally encounter is the lack of technical know-how and knowledge as to how they can implement good responsible practices within their companies and an information gap arises. SMEs may not be able to find external sources of assistance which can act as enablers for their sustainability practices. SMEs may not necessarily correctly relate CSR as a mainstream business issue and make the appropriate business case for it. This will be yet another stumbling block in their efforts to incorporate good CSR practices into their businesses.

Critical factors that lead to success 

Corporate responsibility can be a very effective catalyst for SMEs to reap significant benefits. It must be noted though that there are a number of critical success factors which SMEs should consider to effectively embed and inculcate CSR within their business strategies.

Firstly, there must be a commitment by the owners of SMEs to run their business on the principles of sustainability. They should aim to integrate CSR initiatives within their management and operational practice.

They must also convince their key stakeholders, especially their employees, that actively engaging in CSR will be in the best interest of the company. Getting buy-in from their stakeholders will support SMEs as they embark on the path towards sustainability.

SMEs should also network more with other like-minded organisations and industry leaders in the field of CSR and sustainability. This will allow them to learn from their peers and implement best practices within their organisations.

Sustainability reporting, or the practice of analysing, measuring, disclosing and subsequently reporting the environmental, economic and social impacts a business has on the market in which it operates, will also support an SME as it seeks to develop its CSR credentials. The reporting process can help them with their internal management and give SMEs an opportunity to innovate their businesses from within. External communication of their CSR practices will also give greater assurance to stakeholders on the sustainability of the business.

It must be stressed that SMEs should adopt a staged approach when building a CSR and sustainability framework for their organisations. They should avoid being overwhelmed by the huge number of CSR initiatives they could implement and instead approach it in an incremental fashion. This will ensure that their road to sustainability does not become too daunting or onerous. They should look at the areas in which they could easily implement CSR initiatives and look to ‘build’ this over time as they build capacity and incorporate shorter-term benefits into the vision of long-term sustainability.

There is however a real danger that CSR initiatives and sustainability may be seen as a panacea for poorly managed companies. Mere focus on CSR initiatives will not support a business that is economically unfeasible and commercially unsustainable. Rather, sustainability initiatives should be viewed a catalyst to enhance an SME’s value proposition and allow it to position itself robustly to its various stakeholders.

Small should not just be sexy, but sustainable too 

That many SMEs are committed to environmental, economic and social responsibility is certainly clear. A large proportion of SMEs are already incorporating sustainability practices within their organisations though they may not be aware of it and may actually be practicing “silent” CSR. For instance, they may have started using recycled paper for their organisation, installed energy efficient light bulbs resulting in lower electricity costs and a lower carbon footprint, implemented a work-life balance policy for its employees, maintain a non-discriminatory hiring policy, encourage staff volunteerism and encourage recycling within the organisation. Many successful SMEs also regularly provide excellent products and services and put something tangible back into their local communities.

All of these fall under the umbrella of sustainability practices though the SME may not view it as such. Therefore, it is important that SMEs closely examine the policies and activities within their organisation and understand how these activities and policies may align with sustainability and subsequently report on it. Thereafter, SMEs can look into increasing the scope and scale of their sustainability practices, and contribute as socially responsible corporate citizens in their country’s economic landscape.

In conclusion, SMEs, much unlike their larger counterparts and multinational corporations, cannot simply pack up and transplant their operations elsewhere should the factor conditions in the locations in which they operate in become unfavourable. SMEs are very much entrenched in their communities in which they operate. As local residents, the issues of their community’s environment, society and economic welfare are close to their hearts. They care about proper corporate stewardship of the environment and society as it is where their children, friends, family and roots are. The commitment to CSR is therefore more personal to SMEs and will remain a guiding force for them as they embrace sustainability.

“The price of greatness is responsibility,” declared Sir Winston Churchill. Ultimately, SMEs that aspire to greatness must infuse the values of social responsibility within themselves for this will surely pave the way forward for a truly sustainable future.