Mohammed Tikly became involved in the liberation struggle in South Africa when he was in secondary school, in the 1950s. He lived in Pietersburg, (now Polokwane, in Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo).
He came to Johannesburg in 1953 to attend high school where he became politically conscious. Subsequently, he joined the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress, an affiliate of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) where his political activism began.
After his matriculation, he left for England. Upon arrival in England, he became very active in the African National Congress (ANC). During the 1963 Rivonia Trial, he together with three other activists participated in a 7-day hunger strike beside Trafalgar Square in London, in a tent. They attracted worldwide attention, from the media in particular. The idea was to maximise information about the Trial to highlight the possibility of the death sentence on Nelson Mandela and the other Rivonia trialists. After this incident, the South African Embassy refused to renew his passport. Thus, he was forced into exile for 22 years in England.
He qualified as a teacher but in his spare time worked for the ANC campaigning at universities, explaining to students about apartheid and later travelling to countries on the Continent, to campaign against apartheid.
After the 1976 Soweto Uprising, he, with others, formed an ANC education committee in London. That committee campaigned against Bantu Education. With the outflow of hundreds of students into exile, the ANC decided to establish the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) in Tanzania. Tikly was appointed Director of SOMAFCO from 1982 to 1987. He spent two more years in Lusaka until the ANC was unbanned in 1990.
By the mid-1980s, there were between 120 and 150 nursery school children, between 600 to 700 primary pupils and between 600 to 700 secondary students at SOMAFCO. As regards students, they had a shifting population, graduates would leave on scholarships and new ones enter SOMAFCO.
At SOMAFCO, they had volunteers, teachers and others, who came, some from Sweden. They also sponsored teacher development programme with Linkping University and a nursing development programme with the Norrkping Nursing College in Sweden. These training programmes helped to create staffing capacity within SOMAFCO and in the 20-bed ANC-Holland Solidarity Hospital.
By 1990, when the South Africans knew they were going home, they engaged in consultation with the Tanzanian Foreign Ministry, as they wanted to leave SOMAFCO so that it they would serve the people of Tanzania to maximum benefit. It was decided to hand SOMAFCO and the ANC settlements at Mazimbu and Dakawa to the Government of Tanzania. Oliver Tambo, the then President of the ANC formally handed over both settlements to President Mwinyi of Tanzania in July 1992.
When the South African exiles returned home, the ANC was confronted with the problem of integrating the students into the education system at all levels in South Africa. Tikly was asked to head the Batlagae Trust (Batlagae is a Setswana word meaning those who have come home) that assisted with the reintegration of students in South Africa.
The UNHCR was responsible for the return and providing welfare for a limited period for returnees. The Batlagae Trust funded returnee students to go to university, school, and nursery, pre-primary, adult learners. The Nordic countries again were very important as most of the funding for the bursary programme was provided by the Nordic states, in particular Sweden and Norway. That was one part of the work of the Trust. The other part included providing advice and negotiating with institutions about foreign qualifications, amongst other duties and functions.
Tikly was involved with the Batlagae Trust from 1992 until 1997, after coordinating the SOMAFCO Handover Ceremony at Mazimbu, and is still a trustee of the Trust.
In 1995, he joined the National Department of Education in Pretoria where he worked for five years, first in the International Relations Division and then later on in the Gender Equality Division, retiring in 2000.
Tikly served on the ANC’s Archives’ Committee and is still involved with the Archives at Fort Hare University . He is still active in the ANC at Branch level in Pretoria. He is also a trustee of the Desmond Tutu Diversity Trust, which aims to highlight the importance of diversity as a fundamental feature of South African society.