Port Elizabeth of Today: The Mosque that Survived two Attempts at Demolition

For the Muslim community, the Mosque is an integral part of communal life. Furthermore, when a musjid has been built and the ground dedicated to the service of God, it may not be deconsecrated.

Yet fate had placed two obstacles in the path of the Pier Street Mosque or Musjid ul Aziez of South End.

Main picture:  Pier Street Mosque

First Mosque in Port Elizabeth
Five years prior to the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, the town was laid out. One of the Abo brothers, Abo Salie chose a plot in Strand Street as their family home and in 1821 had it registered in his name. It was here that Abo Salie resided with his wife, Karteejar, for several years. In the meantime, the Muslim community locating themselves in the hamlet also settled in the centre of town, mainly in the Strand Street area. For the betterment of his fellow Muslims, Abo Salie generously donated the use of his home as a musjid. This fact was made officially known by means of a Notice published in the Eastern Province News on the 5th November 1852. Due to a dispute between Paterson and his partners, Paterson operated under the name of E.P. News and only reverted to the original name E.P. Herald on the resolution of the dispute.

Strand Street Mosque

In the year 1900, the imam, Abdol Wahab Salie took the unusual decision to sell the Musjid, known as the Strand Street Mosque. His justification for this action was predicated on two main reasons. With the development of the railway station and other facilities and the resultant expropriations and relocation of residents to South End, this severe decision was necessitated. After half a century, the Strand Street Mosque would be demolished.

Replacement Mosque
The money received on the sale of the Strand Street Mosque was put to good use. Due to the influx of Muslims into the South End area especially the fishermen, the area north of South Union Street had attracted a substantial Muslim community.

According to Yusuf Bemath in his excellent book, The Big Five Masajid of Port Elizabeth, to service this community, a musjid was required in South End. To do so, the design of Musjid ul Aziez was designated to the architect J.A. Holland for the sum of £1345. Messrs Trunick & Curtiss were then engaged to construct the Mosque in Pier Street close to the seawall. Named after the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Aziz, the mosque was officially opened on the 27 July 1901.

Above: South Union Street between 1885 to 1895

In 1963 this community roiled with discontent when the Nationalist government announced that South End would be proclaimed a “whites only” area. This implied their eviction and resettlement in the northern areas. With a stroke of the pen, a once content and vibrant community would be dispersed into an underdeveloped area. Lifelong friendships would be cast asunder and a cocoon of humanity shattered irreparably.

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The Chief Imam of the Cape Peninsular took up the cudgels on behalf of the community. He informed the Group Areas Board in Cape Town that once a musjid had been built and the ground dedicated to the service of God, it would never be deconsecrated. The Sheikh warned the Board of the dire consequences due to international pressure to be placed on the South African government. The Group Areas Board relented, and the bulldozers were returned to the government garage.  

Pier Street Mosque

This hurdle had been successfully crossed but another lurked in the murky unknown distance. Less than a decade later, the Mosque was yet again marred in controversy when the municipality announced its intention to build a freeway upon the land on which the Mosque was situated. Muslim religious and civic leaders pleaded with the authorities to reconsider their decision, going so far as the United Nations in their endeavours.

In their determination to prevent the demolition of the Mosque, many Muslims signalled their intention to go so far as to lay down their lives while others promised to fast till death. The local authorities finally relented but stipulated that the top of the minaret had to be removed in order to accommodate one of the ramps. This was begrudgingly agreed to by the Muslims. Subsequently after the brouhaha had subsided, the freeway was rerouted, and the demolition of the mosque was not required. All that is visible today on the northern bank of South End are the two protagonists; an isolated mosque and is a truncated piece of highway serving as a reminder of what might have eventuated.

Green dome reinstalled


According the Herald of the 19th February 1993, “The onion-shaped green dome of the Masjid ul Aziez at the foot of Walmer Boulevard was reinstated yesterday after an absence of more than 20 years. The dome had to make way for the proposed fly-over before the project was shelved.Supervising the reinstatement yesterday was congregant Tayeb Connelly. He was asked if the dome was green for a special reason. ‘The domes of all the mosques in the East – Medina, Mecca, everywhere – are green. It’s traditional.’”

The glass-fibre 500kg dome cost R8 500 to replace.  

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