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Zurayah Abass

Growing up in the Cape, Zurayah had first hand experience of the hardships suffered by her community but, in particular, the burdens placed upon their children.  Following the death of her mother, Zurayah had to care for her younger siblings.  The responsibilities she bore were onerous and caused her to lose the joy of experiencing her own childhood years. 

Caring for her family in an inner city area was difficult enough but was compounded when the ruling administration declared that her environment be cleared to make way for white occupation. It was this ruling that created an awareness, not only to Zurayah but also to her neighborhood, that personal security and comfort could not to be taken for granted.  It also gave Zurayah her first taste of apartheid and the effect it would have on her life and the lives of her community. 

Despite many obstacles, she put herself through school and eventually qualified as a bookkeeper, working in the commercial sector.  However, she had not forgotten her beginnings and the hardships she and her siblings had endured. 

Zurayah's first political involvement was when she joined the United Women's Organisation in 1980, closely followed by joining the United Democratic Front. 

She also became a member of the  African National Congress prior to her arrest in 1987. 

In 1986, she joined Molo Songololo (a Xhosa expression meaning Hello Millipede), a child rights organization concerned with the survival, development and protection of children and their rights.  The organization symbolizes the unity of children from diverse communities, working together for the advancement of society. 
Its aim was to provide a forum for children to communicate with each other and discuss their concerns and aspirations. 

In addition Molo Songololo provided literacy and numeracy skills to those children who had been deprived of schooling in the greater Cape Town area.  Working with these children, it became obvious that little could be achieved until their status was raised in the country. 
Lobbying on this issue, Molo Songololo was perceived as a political organization rather than a social welfare service. Its magazine was banned from schools and the organization's staff were monitored by government security forces.
It was Zurayah's involvement with Molo Songololo that led to her arrest and detention.

She was charged with sedition on the grounds of national security interests and it would be four years before the case was dropped against her. 

Today, Zurayah is a recognized speaker at national and international seminars on children's rights and she has widely addressed the issues of poverty.  Molo Songololo has grown in stature and a highlight was its hosting of the first Children's Summit on the Rights of Children in South Africa.  At this summit the Children's Charter of South Africa was compiled which led to a special clause on children's rights being added into the country's constitution. 

In addition, Molo Songololo has hosted an International Film Festival, created a forum for children to address parliament and the constitutional assembly on children's issues and also facilitated a submission by children to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 
It is Zurayah's belief that children's rights will only be enhanced when they form a pillar of democratic governance and are recognized internationally.