A literary delight

2010-04-07 00:00


Dear Ahmedbhai Dear Zuleikabehn: The Letters of Zuleika Mayat and Ahmed Kathrada, 1979 – 1989

Compiled by Goolam ­Vahed and Thembisa ­Waetjen

Jacana Books

THIS literary treasure was discovered quite by accident. Goolam ­Vahed was researching a soon to be published work on the Women’s ­Cultural Group which produced the hugely popular cook book Indian ­Delights. Among the organisation’s files he discovered the letters ­between the editor of Indian ­Delights, Zuleika Mayat, and Robben Island prisoner Ahmed Kathrada.

The correspondence also started by chance. Mayat had lost her husband in a road accident. Kathrada knew her brother, Dr Abdulhak ­­“Bis” Bismillah, who was his former flat mate, and wrote a letter conveying his condolences to the family. Mayat recalls her mother urging her to ­reply to the letter, saying: “This man is in prison yet he took the time to remember our family.”

So began 10 years of correspondence that allows a peek into the ­private lives of two people whose worlds intersect on some levels and are vastly divergent on others. It gives insight into Mayat’s community and aspects of incarceration on Robben Island. Above all, it offers a sense of the history of both repression and resistance in what is ­increasingly becoming to feel like an extraordinary time — South Africa in the apartheid era.

There are everyday matters ­discussed in the letters — family, ­mutual friends, religion, culture and politics. All of this in quaint, gentle language adding up to beautifully written prose. Dear Ahmedbhai Dear Zulelikhabhen really is a most delightful read.

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