Icon and Iconoclast

Despite her family pedigree and her father's involvement in civic and political life, Cissie Gool was much more than "the younger daughter of Dr Abdurahman" as newspaper captions of the day described her.

Gool shattered stereotypes - she led a national political movement, she scandalised Muslim morality through her affair with a Jewish communist, yet held the affection and confidence of voters in District Six, where she was beloved as the "Jewel of District Six" and a "Joan of Arc" who crusaded on behalf of the poor.

She celebrated her mixed ancestry. "It has enriched me," she said of her Indian grandfather, Malay grandmother, Scottish mother and coloured Muslim father. "If my father had not had the opportunity of meeting my mother, I would not be here to answer your question," she told a reporter in the 1950s.

'It has enriched me,' she said of her Indian grandfather, Malay grandmother, Scottish mother and coloured Muslim father. 'If my father had not had the opportunity of meeting my mother, I would not be here to answer your question.

Gool rose to political prominence in a context of growing segregation as the South African Parliament debated the merits of extending the colour bar and depriving coloureds in the Cape Province of the limited social, economic and political rights they enjoyed.

One of her earliest political actions was to organise a march to Parliament in March 1930 to protest against the Women's Enfranchisement Bill, which gave the vote to women - but to white women only.

Two years later she was the first black woman at the University of Cape Town to receive a master's degree.

In 1935 along with her husband Abdul Gool and Communist Party member Sam Kahn, Cissie established the Anti-Fascist League in Cape Town in February. A few months later she was the first South African woman to lead a national liberation movement, the newly founded National Liberation League (NLL).

For the next three decades Gool led various political movements. In 1938 she helped establish and was elected president of the Non-European United Front, which developed into the "Unity Movement" and became a major force among Cape Town intellectuals for many decades.

In the mid-1930s more than a third of Cape Town's residential areas were racially mixed, a situation that was anathema to many white Parliamentarians. Under Gool's leadership, on the eve of World War Two both the NLL and the Unity Movement campaigned against National Party petitions favouring enforced residential segregation between whites and coloureds.

She was a key speaker at a mass meeting of more than 10 000 people on the Grand Parade on March 27, 1939 opposing segregation. Despite the strong opposition to this proposed segregation, even from Jan Smuts's United Party, 11 years later in 1950, the Group Areas Act was passed.

Gool's affair with a man considerably younger than herself, Sam Kahn, a Jewish communist, scandalised many of her constituents but it did not stop them from returning her as the city councillor for District Six in an unbroken period of service for more than 25 years.

In 1949 she was elected chairperson of the city's Public Health Committee, a position her father had also held. Gool served on the city council from 1938 until her death from a stroke in July 1963.

During this time she studied law and in 1962 became the first black woman advocate called to the Cape Town Bar.


Researched by Sue Valentine with acknowledgements and thanks to:

Patricia van der Spuy, Not only the younger daughter of Doctor Abdurahman, PhD dissertation, University of Cape Town, 2002
E Everett, Zainunnissa Cissie Gool 1897-1963. A Biography BA Hons essay, University of Cape Town, 1978
Gairoonisa Paleker, She was certainly not a Rosa Luxemburg: A biography of Cissie Gool in Images and Words, (MA thesis, University of Cape Town, 2002)
Cissie Gool, Order of the Disa, Western Cape Premier's award, 2004 (www.capegateway.gov.za) Cape Times, March 24, 1939 (p.14)
Cape Times, March 25, 1939 (p.17)
Cape Times, March 27 & 28, 1939
Cape Times, March 30, 1939 Tragic Poverty of City's Coloureds (p.15)
African People's Organisation Album 111, National Library (11806-11830)
The Fifties People of South Africa (A Bailey's Africa Photo Archive Production, 1989, pp108-109)
The Path to Freedom, Gerald Shaw, October 18, 1996
Shamil Jeppie and Crain Soudien (eds) The Struggle for District Six Past and Present (Buchu Books, 1990)


back to the Cissie Gool memorial page

"What I try to do is build a brighter and better population for Cape Town as a whole."
Cissie Gool
Cissie Gool, 1954
Bailey's History Archives


Pictures and promises

In this lesson plan, learners will study some images of Cissie Gool, including an election handbill, a newspaper report and an extract from a poem she wrote when she was a teenager. They will be asked to see how much they can find out about what she was like from this collection of sources.


Lesson plan
You′ll need the Adobe Acrobat PDF reader to view these lesson plans. Download it here.
Archive Photo Gallery
Posters for the "people’s own candidate" and photos from the very public life of Cissie Gool.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Capetonians at play on the inscribed bollards that commemorate the "Jewel of District Six" .
Audio Documentary
Hear how Gool both served and scandalised Cape Town’s Muslim community.
Zoom in on this 360° people-friendly memorial situated on Longmarket Street Pedestrian Mall near parliament.
"Certainly not a Rosa Luxemburg" documentary part 1
Four excerpts from ‘She was certainly not a Rosa Luxemburg,’ by UCT post-graduate student G. Paleker
"Certainly not a Rosa Luxemburg" part 2
Part 2 focuses on Gool as a student and her marriage.
"Certainly not a Rosa Luxemburg" part 3
In Part 3, Gool’s sister-in-law describes listening to her speak at a political event in the Drill Hall
"Certainly not a Rosa Luxemburg" part 4
Gool’s death and funeral brought thousands of mourners onto the streets
Cissie Gool Memorial
Spend some time watching footage of our memorial to Gool, and hear what Cape Town’s residents think of it and the woman it commemorates