Abdol Burns

by Andre Odendal

Cape Town has one of the oldest cricket traditions in the world. Games have been played at Green Point Common, described in 1806 as ‘the level ground by the sea at the lion’s tail’, for more than two hundred years. And the people of nearby Bo Kaap were interested spectators and participants from that time, producing many legendary players and administrators.

One of these was Abdol Burns, community leader and first president of the Cape Town Cricket Union, who organised the first Malay inter-town cricket tournament in 1890. The games were played on the then one-year old Newlands ground, over three weeks on Mondays and Tuesdays when the whites-only teams weren’t using it. No less than 5 000 spectators streamed in to watch the first day, creating ‘the most gorgeous of eastern spectacles’.

Burns was the son of a Scottish cab driver and a local woman, and his influence in the Bo Kaap was said to be “tremendous”. He emerged as a local spokesman in the late 1860s, when he spoke out at a protest meeting against the flogging clauses in the Masters and Servants Bill. In 1886 he marched at the head of a crowd of 3, 000 in the famous cemetery riots, protesting against the City council’s decision to close the Tanu Baru cemetery and burying a young child. The Cape Argus recalled later that, ‘no political meeting, especially at election time was complete without a speech by Abdol Burns, and his speeches contained more solid sense than those of many persons better placed in life’. It was said that Burns’s strength was how he ‘intelligently blended his community’s religious sentiments with the strategies of political action and agitation, at the same time seeking a constitutional solution to the problem’.

Cape Town did not win that first tournament but when they beat Kimberly away two years later, 4, 000 people welcome Burns and the team back at Cape Town station and they were paraded through the streets in a grand procession.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop