Jozi Boy

My father-in-law died this week. He was an Indian South African whose own father came to Africa from Gujarat in the early 20th century. His life started and ended, 88 years apart, in Johannesburg. He was a devout, peace loving Muslim. For a large part of his life he lived under the Apartheid regime. He was neither an activist nor a collaborator. Like most South Africans, he got on with his life, raised a family and put up with the regular humiliations that, until the early 1990s, went with life in that otherwise beautiful country. He travelled for business, speaking multiple languages with his rainbow customers; English, Gujarati, Afrikaans, Zulu. Away from home, he slept with friends or in his car because he was not welcome in hotels. Even when Apartheid fell away, he preferred home cooked padkos to eating in restaurants which would earlier have turned him away. Why would he not?

The young Ismail was estranged from his family because he fell in love with a non-muslim, Nora then Zora, to whom he was married for over 60 years. Together they had 7 children. He  worked hard and played football in his spare time, wearing out his knees in the process. He liked to dance to records on the home gramophone; there was no television in South Africa until 1976. His idea of a perfect weekend was a trip to Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) with his family in his VW Combi. The colonial Portuguese were more relaxed in their attitudes to race than their South African counterparts and camping on the beach was cheap and cheerful. LM Prawns could be enjoyed al fresco in the sea-front restaurants. He loved the sea and in later years would take long, surf sprayed, daily walks on the beach in East London where one of his daughters was living.

He also loved the Lowveld in the Eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga, where he lived for many years. This edgy, green, only just sub-tropical landscape still holds scattered township communities in which his customers lived and through which he loved to drive; places with evocative names like Sabie, Graskop, Hazyview and Bushbuckridge. The Kruger National Park was another favourite place.

In a long life, my Father-in-law experienced a lot of change. He was kind of indifferent to most of it because his home grown family was the one constant in his life; always there and mostly making him smile.

May God grant you a better place Haji Ismail Adam Rajah. I will miss you.


No Victor but God

A few weeks ago, I reflected on a millennium of change in York. Last week, I travelled to the beautiful Andalusian city of Granada and found myself looking for clues to the preoccupations of our troubled world in the history that is embedded here. Granada is the site of the Alhambra; a reminder that multi-cultural Europe is nothing new (think also the Balkan countries) and that the tensions this introduces to society are not new either.

Andalusia was ruled for 8 centuries by Muslim sultans with roots in North Africa. The Christian kings of Spain, of course, were determined to expel the Muslim occupiers. Granada, the last stronghold, was finally surrendered to the Spanish king in 1492. At that time it was a prosperous city with important communities representing each of the Abrahamic religions. Today Granada is an exotic cocktail of Christian and Muslim heritage surrounded by olive groves, scorched mountains, and sharing its climate with Morocco. The handsome citizens sport features that perhaps point to marriages across the faith divide all those centuries ago.

The palaces of the Alhambra are largely intact and testament to the peace and tranquility which is at the heart of true Islam. Beautifully carved marble, gentle fountains, pomegranates and roses combine to transport the visitor into a world dedicated to the celebration of God and the beauty of creation even while the world outside lays siege.

The Koranic text that is exquisitely carved everywhere translates variously but most often as “There is no victor but God”; surely a reminder that our predilection for war is ultimately and always futile. Our tendency to turn suspicion and ignorance of other cultures into hate is blinding us to the opportunity for a more gentle, meditative world.

And the lesson for the Change Manager? Maybe that change washes over everything but beauty will not be easily swept away. The good in anything can be the backbone of  the new and the inspiration for progress.

Change is good.