Abdul Rahman Dawood or 'Apmai' as he was affectionately known was born in India to a family of progressive community activists in October 1935. He was brought to South Africa by his father to live with relatives in Prinsloo Street, Pretoria. He was admitted to Pretoria Indian Boy's School where he did his education, but later left school and started working. He became active in a number of community organisations including religious, sports bodies and civic structures.
Dawood was detached from the Defiance Campaign and Treason trial in the early and late fifties respectively, he became actively involved in politics in the early sixties when the Group Areas Board issued notices to a number of friends and relatives in Prinsloo Street to forcibly relocate. As they explored options to respond to the situation, he and his friends became exposed to various initiatives of resistance being undertaken. Among these was the legendary resistance by Nana Sita, who refused to move from his home in Marabastad, despite all the underhand attempts by the apartheid state to relocate him. Nana Sita who applied the Satyagraha philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi in his resistance to government actions became the motivating force for Dawood and his friends. However, Dawood and his friends began to question the effectiveness of non violent resistance in the face of brutal force used by the apartheid government against non violent protesters.
Consequently Dawood joined an underground cell of the African National Congress (ANC) and its armed wing uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) in 1962 and supported various activities in Pretoria. Thus, Dawood became engaged in more militant approaches to fighting apartheid proposed by the ANC’s armed wing, which advocated sabotage of state structures with strict conditions that no loss of life should occur. As result of his political activism, Dawood and his family were constantly harassed by the security police. For instance, he was detained in 1963 for being involved in clandestine activities related to the trial of Nelson Mandela. In 1971 his house was raided twice by the security police, he was arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
As a key leader in the Transvaal Anti- South African Indian Council Committee, Dawood played a significant role in 1981 in mobilising the community to oppose the apartheid South African Indian Council (SAIC) elections. The Anti-SAIC Committee opposed the government created Council and publicly challenged collaborators from the local community who participated in Apartheid Structures. The SAIC was formed as an advisory body by the apartheid government to advise government on Indian affairs. The organisation was viewed as puppet of the government and consequently rejected most Indian people. Dawood wrote a public letter challenging the government to scrap the SAIC.
Dawood also played a significant role in the revival of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and the creation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983. He was part of the Transvaal Delegation to the launch of the UDF in Cape Town and actively participated in its activities and campaigns as a member of its Pretoria Regional Committee. As vice-president of the TIC and the chairman of its Laudium branch, he led the campaigns against the Tricameral parliament system imposed by PW Botha in 1984.He participated in organising various acts of defiance including the very successful consumer boycott of white shops in Pretoria in 1986. Furthermore, he played a central role in the struggle for proper low cost housing in the community of Laudium.
The police continued to harass Dawood and his family throughout the 1980s. His house was raided in 1985 and the police confiscated documents in the hope finding incriminating evidence against him. This was followed by another raid in 1986, where the police sought to arrest him. When they did not find him at home, they harassed his wife and children and repeatedly came back during the State of Emergency to harass them while Dawood was on the run. In addition, his local community he faced great intimidation from local collaborators who worked closely with the Security Branch. Despite this harassment, his wife and family provided much support to a number of political detainees and trialists being held at Pretoria Central Prison, including UDF, TIC and even detainees of the PAC and Qibla, who were supplied with home cooked meals weekly by Apmai’s family for years.
In 1988 Dawood was part of the TIC delegation that went to Lusaka to meet with high ranking members of the then-exiled ANC. After the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), UDF and TIC held several meetings with the ANC over the future role of these organisations. When they were all dissolved, some of their members were absorbed into ANC structures. Dawood continued to play his part on the local, regional and provincial structures of the ANC.
In the post 1994 period, Dawood served as a councillor in the Greater Pretoria Metro Council and also as a member of the first and second Gauteng Provincial Legislature.
Aside from his political profile, Dawood was a well known figure of the community in Laudium, Marabastad, Atteridgeville and surrounds. He served on a number of bodies, including the Pretoria Muslim Congregation, the World council of Religion and Peace, the Forum for Art and Culture and the Marabastad Development Forum. Many community activists from surrounding townships recall how Dawood's shop was a haven for them where help could be sought for social, political and sometimes financial problems. He continued doing voluntary work in the Marabastad area, bringing communities together and working towards its regeneration and preservation.
A fierce proponent of non-racism before it was fashionable; he practiced his Islamic faith by reaching out to people from all communities towards a common vision and also bridging the divide between communities that he served. On Monday 2 January 2012, Dawood passed away. He is survived by his wife, their four children and two grandchildren.