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.