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In quest of a heritage

(Left) My grandfather, Sayed Hoosen. Middelrus near Mooi River, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, 1940. (Right) My father Ameer Sayed Hoosen and brother, Farouk Hoosen. Durban, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, 1960

Image and Text contributed by Fazila Benoit, Winchester, England

This is a composite photograph of my Grandfather Sayed Hoosen, my father Ameer Sayed Hoosen and my brother Farouk Hoosen. The photo on the left is my paternal grandfather Sayed Hoosen who was born circa 1893 in Ghala, a village near Surat, Bombay Presidency (now in Gujarat). He was the fourth child of my great grand-parents Sayed Murtaza Mansoor and Khairunissa.

In 1910, seeking new work opportunities , my grandfather, a 17 year old, came to South Africa by ship along with two of his brothers. Ship records indicate that the journey from the Indian shores to South Africa may have taken about 40 days. After arriving in SA, my grandfather began working as labourer and in 1912, he married my grandmother Roshan Hashim. We don’t know very much about my grandmother’s background, except that her family was from Rander, a district in Surat, and her father’s name was Hashim Rasool Sheikh.

Sayed Hoosen took up a job as a store manager and within a few years, by 1918, he went on to open his first trading store in Stanger, near Durban and then seven more such stores. He even established transport business, albeit through the next two decades he lost control over that business due to family disputes, as well as offering property to family members in difficulty. My grandparents had 14 children, all of whom who were brought up in South Africa, mostly between the provinces of Transvaal (now Gauteng) and Natal and eventually moved into bigger towns and cities.

My grandfather passed away in 1946 and it is unfortunate that I never got to meet him. Of his 14 children, including my father, only a daughter, survives.

The photograph on the right is of my father Ameer Sayed Hoosen holding my older brother Farouk. My father was born in 1929, and often reminisced about his younger days, growing up in the farmlands of the Natal Midlands. His stories included details of the simple rural life they led, walking miles to the local village school, as well enjoying the fresh produce from their farmland. He spoke fluent Zulu, the language of the local area. When he grew up, he began managing one of my grandfather’s stores, General Stores that sold a variety of goods like tea and sugar, but also some luxury items like crockery and cloth that were imported from England. My father worked as a salesman for most of his life and he loved his work – approachable and friendly, he loved meeting and serving people. He was committed to his family and it was a joy to have him visit me in England on a couple of occasions when he had retired from working life.

In February of 2019, I lost my father. I had lived with him and my family until I was 18 years old. I had moved to the UK for studies, and then later to France to live with my husband. Ever since then, I had visited my father every year and now it feels like an important part of my life has been lost forever.

Since my father’s death, harbouring a great desire to connect with my heritage, I travelled to Ghala in Gujarat for the first time in October 2019 and was deeply moved to see a empty house (now owned by extended family members), that my grandfather lived in until he was 17. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out what his life may have been like or what my ancestors did, but Ghala is still quite rural, small and remote, so it may have been a simple and conservative life.

I remain intrigued by my grandfather’s decision to leave his hometown over a century ago and travel to unfamiliar lands to begin a new life. I am also suspended in time, wondering what part of this heritage I may carry with me and where exactly I belong.

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