Faith, sacrifice and building one big family

2014-04-20 15:00

For Naveen and Rohaida Nair, post-apartheid life has thrown up more challenges and contradictions than those posed by moving from a racially segregated society to an integrated one.

The Sunningdale, Durban North, couple also had to overcome religious barriers. Naveen is Hindu and had to convert to Islam before he could marry Rohaida. The two met while they were teaching at Lenasia South Secondary School in 1996.

Today they live a middle class life in a formerly white suburb with their three children?–?Aaliyah (13), Iman (7) and Misbah (5).

Naveen’s father, Sandy (74), a retired clothing pattern maker, and a very friendly black dog called Zorro make up the rest of the household.

Before the couple met, Naveen worked as a locum accounting teacher in Tongaat on the north coast, where he grew up in his parent’s Watsonia home while studying for a higher diploma in education at Unisa.

Says Naveen: “We had a decent living because my dad worked so hard. There was an awareness of apartheid, but the priority was getting on with life?–?get a job, house, car, wife, kids. And drinking.

“There was an incredible amount of violence in the community, petty violence that was constantly there. I wasn’t particularly conscious, which today is kind of a regret. We lacked a voice, the confidence to stand up.”

Rohaida was raised by her mother, Asma Mahomed, on state grants in Phoenix, an Indian township north of Durban. She was studying for a higher diploma in education at the then Indian University of Durban-Westville.

She says: “I had a different experience to Naveen, I guess because of the campus, which was very politicised and at the centre of a lot of things. We were more politically aware. There was a lot of activity on campus, marches. Codesa was going on.

“It’s strange, but my first real interaction with white people in a normal kind of way was much later in life when I worked at Alexander Forbes.”

The two moved to Johannesburg individually looking for work because there had been a migration of Indian teachers back to KwaZulu-Natal after the integration of the apartheid-era education departments.

Naveen was teaching accounting at the time and Rohaida was a maths specialist. They met at school in Lenasia and, after a “two-month whirlwind romance”, decided to marry.

“When I first said I wanted to convert and marry Rohaida, people in the family were suspicious. There were people who hated me. They didn’t believe that I was genuine. There was a constant feeling that I had to prove myself,” says Naveen.

“It was difficult,” agrees Rohaida. “There was a lot of hostility. Things were tough, even between myself and my mum for a time.”

“Now things are cool and we’re one big family,” laughs Naveen.

He works with his mother-in-law in the protective-clothing business he runs with his brother-in-law.

Rohaida believes that while their early days were tough, they would have been tougher in a South Africa still under the apartheid system.

Naveen says: “It would have been more difficult then. There has been some sort of opening up at that level since 1994.”

The family observes the Muslim festival of Eid with “a bit of festivity to be in on the sense of fun” around Christmas and Diwali.

After Aaliyah was born in 2002, Rohaida followed Naveen – who had left teaching for the financial service world – to Alexander Forbes. When he transferred to Durban in 2005, she moved back to teaching, taking up a post at the formerly whites-only Danville Park Girls’ High School in Durban North.

“I’m teaching at a school I could never have attended as a child. Our kids are attending schools we could never have attended. We’re living in a house in an area we could never have bought in those days,” says Rohaida.

“Apartheid also limited our choices in terms of what we could be. There was that conservatism, that pressure to take the safe path, become a teacher, that sort of thing.”

Naveen concurs. “I still don’t know what it is that I’m good at,” he says.

“We both remember apartheid and are acutely conscious of the fact that our kids could never have lived the lives they live today. We live a very middle class life today in a very comfortable suburb. Our kids are suburban kids,” Naveen adds.

“They have a lot more options, a lot more choices than we did.”

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