Most of his 13 published works focused on the role of the Indian community in South African society, often highlighting the challenges the community faced under the draconian apartheid-era minority white government. This led to him being barred from teaching.
One of Essop’s early books, The Hajji and Other Stories’ won the coveted Olive Schreiner Prize from the English Academy of Southern Africa in 1979. It was later turned into a film.
In 2018, Essop received the Lifetime Achievement Literary Award at the annual South Africa Literary Awards. “In his hands, words behaved as if he were a magical craftsman,” fellow Indian-origin wordsmith Yusuf Garda said in a tribute to Essop. “We honour you, Ahmed Essop, as a man of letters and literature, and as a Master of the English language in South Africa,” Garda added.