Umm Muhammed Umar
The Fordsburg resident’s reunion held on Sunday, the 7th of October, was remarkable. The event was held at the Johannesburg Secondary School, and ended at 5pm, only because sound crew had another event to attend to. Amongst the guest speakers present were such icons as Dr. Essop Jassat, Mr Yusuf “Chubb” Garda, the author of ‘Literature, Life and Cricket’, Maulana Ebrahim Bham, and a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Fatima Hajaaj.
The day was eventful, to say the least. The well organised reunion began at 10:00 am, with a foyer full of snacks and drinks. I must emphasize however, that the event was so joyous that exhuberation filled the air of the schoolyard even before people entered the hall.
Never have I seen such a large crowd of such collectively happy people. Right from the outset, pre Group Areas Act Fordsburg residents began hunting each other out in the crowd of almost six hundred. While excitement laden comments could be heard when people stumbled across each other after what could, in some cases, have been decades, there were also the audible tones of disappointment when longed for ones were finally accepted as not being present at the gathering. The event was dominated by speeches, but this did not detract from it being a real ‘old Fordsburgers’ reunion.
In fact, the numerous speakers managed to recreate the atmosphere of the social, cultural, and political hub that Fordsburg used to be. Despite the number, and duration, of the speeches, the audience remained mesmerised. Memories were evoked, old haunts were conjured up, the sense of glamour generated in what was essentially a slum was induced in the audience, maintaining an atmosphere of awe and nostalgia throughout the proceedings. For the generations present that had not experienced Fordsburg life at that time, the reunion was an essential lesson in Indian political history, as well as an awakening to what level of development can take place in ordinary people, despite less than ideal circumstances.
A single shining common thread that glimmered through, no matter whom it was that was speaking, and no matter what their particular story was about, was UNITY. An unwitting offshoot of all that was recreated in those many long speeches, it became apparent to the audience that unity was alive and palpable in the old Fordsburg, inspite of the various races who lived there, inspite of the many different religions followed, and inspite of apartheid. Yes, divide and rule was the weapon of choice under the apartheid regime, and it was a vastly successful one.
The day offered a large lunch, with a variety of menus, including a braai, and a special menu for people of the Hindu faith, who are currently observing a fast. During the lunch, as well as the tea that took place after 5pm, attendees socialised, catching up on lost years. Before I conclude I should mention that tickets, going at R150 per person were bought in bulk by some, for others, in the knowledge that plenty of former residents were now elderly and pensioners. One amongst those was Mr. Rajan of Technispray Lenasia, who purchased 50 tickets.
A bus was even hired by Mr. Daya Naidoo, who owns Signet Terrace, for residents of Lenasia who had difficulty with transport. I’m pleased to say my ticket as well as those of my parents were purchased for us by a former student of my dad’s, one Dr. Mohammed Kola. My dad, Mr. Dedat had been a Primary School teacher at Ferreira’s Town and Bree Street. I was amazed to see how many ex-students honoured my dad by searching for him just to greet him. Were it not for my parents calling me daily to accompany them to the reunion, in all probability I would not have attended. And it would most certainly have been my loss.