The ML Sultan Emblem designed by Rashad Sultan (great grandson).
The red fez – M.L. Sultan signature attire. The Laurel – made up of olive leaves signifying honour, success and peace.
Ana Fakir...Alhamdulillah – I am poor...praise be to Allah.
The Late Hajee ML Sultan was a South African Philanthropist, being amongst one of the most generous of his time. Amongst his most notable contributions to his community, was being the benefactor of the ML Sultan Technical College, in Durban South Africa.
Mulukmahomed Lappa Sultan known as ML Sultan was born in Kollam (Quilon), Kerala State, South India on the 15th February 1873. He received his early education at a local school in Quilon, close to his family home, and after the death of his father at age 14, had to leave school.
A few years later as a young lad of 17, he decided to emigrate to Ceylon, and due to ship troubles en route, he migrated to South Africa instead, in search of greener pastures.
Hajee ML Sultan came from a lineage of deeply religious men who understood both secular and spiritual issues, and had great empathy for the human condition.
ML Sultan arrived in South Africa from South India in 1890.
He initially worked as a porter at the Berea Road Train Station in Durban, where he was fortunate to have met many of the pioneer business personalities from Natal, and profited from their business ability and vision for the province.
He later relocated to the Transvaal where he worked as a waiter at a Masonic Hotel. Here his honesty, courtesy and willingness to render dignified service above and beyond, made him a very popular employee.
Three years later, he returned to Natal a place he found close to his heart.
At first he tried tobacco farming, which was a disappointment and proved to be an unsuccessful venture. In an attempt to recover from this setback he then partnered with a Vedic Medicine specialist in Grey Street, Durban for the next 4 years, bringing both physical and spiritual comfort to those who attended.
After a short stint farming at Bellair, he moved to Escombe where he later specialised in the production of bananas, paw-paws and pineapples, and later also established a dairy.
In 1905, he married his beloved wife Mariam Bee. The marriage was blessed with four sons and six daughters.
The tragic loss of his wife in 1933 came as a deep shock, and ML Sultan sought refuge in his business and work, and went on to launch a wholesale and retail business in Durban.
The success of this business saw him investing in property and establishing a soft goods business, known as ML Sultan and Sons at 106 Victoria Street in Durban, whilst at the same time doing betel leaf farming in Stamford Hill.
His difficulties and hardships made him a very firm and principled businessman.
With his business doing well, he ventured into the property market, and later owned several significant real estate properties around the then province of Natal, today known as Kwa-Zulu Natal.
He later visited his birth place at Quilon in search of family and friends, where he is known to have provided financial support to his family there, to retain his family home where he was born. The home today is occupied by members of the family in Kollam. After spending six months in Kollam he returned to Natal.
An orator in Tamil, he read widely broadening his spiritual life, yet never neglecting the practical aspects of business. As a Muslim he prayed each day and never altered a decision. “A promise made is an obligation” he would say.
At the age of 80 years, ML Sultan is known to have walked 12 miles from Escombe to Durban to keep an appointment because the trains were out of service due to a landslide.
By 1941, as a result of hard work, dedication and an excellent business acumen, he was a wealthy man and was able to make his dream of building a technical education facility for the Indian community, a reality.
He strongly believed that young Indians should have opportunities for education to prepare themselves for employment in industry, business or a profession of their choice, at a time when this opportunity was not available to them in South Africa.
So, in 1941 he pledged a sum of 33 000 pounds towards the establishment of the College, the first such institution for people of colour in South Africa.
Later in 1949, the ML Sultan Charitable and Educational Trust was formed. Of the capital sum of £100 000 donated by ML Sultan, £33 000 were allocated for the establishment of the ML Sultan Technical College. ML Sultan also expressed his wish that education be carried to Pietermaritzburg and to the north and south coasts of Natal.
One of the memories of his last few weeks in his life, was the thanks and praise that he rendered to God, when he held the title deed from the Durban City Council of the plot earmarked for the new ML Sultan Technical College.
He was unaffected by wealth yet knew its value and power. His personal needs were small but he felt that the needs of his fellow-men were great. In the name of God he gave back to the poor most of what he possessed.
He looked forward to making his pilgrimage to perform his Haj despite the hardship of making the journey during this time. He also looked forward to being called to higher service by God and steadfastly and faithfully divested himself of all his worldly possessions.
When he finally got the call, Mulukmahomed Lappa Sultan only owned his burial robes and an unquestionable faith which he carried with him throughout his life here on earth. ML Sultan died at his home in Escombe, KwaZulu-Natal, on 6 September 1953, a few days after learning of the grant of £11 250 by the Durban City Council towards the College, that was to bear his name.
By the grace of God Almighty, his vision remains with us to grow through the years! The college opened officially on the 7th August 1956.
To list his benefactions would be too great a task as he was associated with most charitable efforts. Only some of these are listed:
Sastri College benefited with a gift of Five Hundred Pounds (£ 500.00), a large sum in those days.
Villa Road Madressa owed its existence to his generosity.
The Avoca Primary School which bears his name was established by his beneficence.
The M.L. Sultan Technical College was established because of his vision and generosity, with his initial donation of £100 000.
The Medical School of Durban was first mooted by him. His final act of civic generosity was to donate twenty thousand pounds (£20 000) towards the cost of a suitable building for a Medical School to be erected by the University of Natal, in 1955. This is now known as the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine.
He founded the M.L. Sultan Charitable and Educational Trust of One Hundred Thousand pounds (£ 100 000 ), and approved the first donation from this trust, a gift to the Technical College of thirty three thousand pounds (£ 33 000).
He also left large sums of money in the hands of the Education Department and expressed the wish that education should extend to Pietermaritzburg and the north and south coast in addition to other areas of Durban.
In founding the Mariam Bee Charitable and Educational Trust in memory of his beloved wife he set aside Twenty Five Thousand pounds (£ 25 000) hoping to establish a children’s hospital. The Mariam Bee Sultan Madressa & Islamic Centre is at Kenilworth Road, Overport, Durban.
In accordance with his Faith he made provisions for all members of his family as well.
Tribute to a Philanthropist
The 1860 Heritage Centre and the ML Sultan family hosted an inspirational tribute to ML Sultan, the founder of the ML Sultan Technicon. The well attended event was hosted at 1860 Heritage Centre in Derby Street, Durban on 13 April 2019. Among the speakers were:
Professor Goolam Vahed (Writer | Historian University of Durban Westville)
Yunus Sultan (Grandson of ML Sultan)
Shehnaaz (Sultan) Mohideen (Youngest Grand daughter of ML Sultan)
Selvan Naidoo - curator of 1860 Heritage Centre
Professor Jairam Reddy
Shameema Mayat – Mariam Bee Sultan Islamic Centre
Yashica Padia – Extract from Dr Goonam's memory of ML Sultan
Roshan Ramdheen – St Mary’s school
Shabnam Palesa Mohamed – read a poem "Homage to a Dreamer" written by Dr Ronnie Govender
Aslam Mayat MC'd the afternoon, and some guests shared the anecdotes and memories of the late ML Sultan. These included Mrs Fatima Mayat, Ms Zubeda Seedat, Fawzia Peer, Dr Yusuf Osman.
Interviews with Professor Goolam Vahed and Mr Yunus Sultan on Channel Islam International.