Life is for living, says Zuleika Mayat

2009-12-09 00:00

ZULEIKA Mayat, a founding member of an historic cultural group for Indian women and editor of the best-selling cook book, Indian Delights, drew a capacity audience of over 200 women at a fundraising brunch for the Nizamia Islamic School.

The inspirational Mayat (83) also used the occasion to launch her latest book, whose publication came about quite by chance.

The book, Dear Ahmedbhai Dear Zuleikhabehn is a collection of letters exchanged by Mayat and Robben Island political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada.

Mayat was involved in an accident in which she lost both her husband and her sister. Kathrada, who was friends with her brother, wrote from prison to offer the family his condolences. By the time the letter arrived, Mayat’s brother was back in Canada. She was encou­raged by her mother to reply. “My mother said to me this man is in jail, yet he thought about us. We need to show appreciation for his concern,” Mayat said.

So began a correspondence that lasted 10 years.

All the letters were carefully filed and remained in folders until early this year. According to Mayat, she was approached by historians Goolam Vahed and Thembisa Waetjen, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who wanted to record the history of the Women’s Cultural Group. She gave them her files after which they told her they were going to compile it into a book.

The hostess for the morning, Basheera Ebrahim, said the book is written in the most beautiful English and filled with both humour and sadness.

Mayat was one of a handful of Muslim women who acquired a post-matric education. She had her audience listening intently as she told them about growing up in a small rural Transvaal town which had only a primary school.

The boys in the family could go off and live with relatives in other towns to attend high school, but this option was not available to girls. Mayat studied by correspon­dence and pursued her love of writing by sending letters to penpals and to the local newspapers.

She encouraged the women present to use their talents to the full.

“Nobody is born spectacular; we all have different gifts. It is up to us to find what those gifts are and reach our potential.”

Mayat also advised them to be open-minded and to take chances.

She had her audience laughing at her descriptions of travel exploits with her late husband. They arrived in Nigeria without visas soon after it gained independence. Her husband managed to find the right contacts and they were able to experience being in one of the first African countries to gain independence.

Their travels in the 60s and 70s took them to places such as Afganistan, where they orga­nised visas to get into Russia. She said they always chose to stay in local hotels where they could mingle with the people.

Her message to the audience is that life is for living, learning, caring for others and reaching one’s true potential.

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