Obituary: Community stalwart Ainsha Bhamjee

2010-07-09 00:00

COMMUNITY stalwart Ainsha Bhamjee (85) died on Tuesday after suddenly taking ill on Monday night.

Bhamjee and her late husband Suleiman established the well known Bhamjee’s Fashion Store in downtown Pietermaritzburg 53 years ago.

She was also the mother of political, sport and community activists Haniff (who lives in Wales), Ismail (active in sports adminstration), and Yusuf, who is the mayor of uMgungundlovu District. Her eldest son, Shabeer, and his wife Fowzia, joined the business in the late 1960s.

Bhamjee (affectionately known as Ma or Gogo) is best remembered for her generosity, her spirit of non-sectarianism and non-racism and her commitment to the Pietermaritzburg community.

This quality was summed up by a community member who said when attending her funeral: “It was because of Mrs Bhamjee that I had shoes to go to school. My father was a factory worker and if my mother said she could not afford the shoes, Mrs Bhamjee would say, ‘The child can’t go to school without shoes. Take it and you can pay me when you have the money’.

“I think we had left school and my mother was still paying for our uniforms.

“There was no pressure to pay, but my parents were determined not to abuse the kindness that was shown to us.”

This story of Bhamjee’s generosity has been repeated by several community members on hearing of her death. She continued to spend her days at the shop, which moved to new premises in Boshoff Street, and was there right until Monday, a day before her death.

In an interview with The Witness two years ago, she said retirement was not an option. “My heart tells me to go to the store. It’s no good if you just sit in bed at home all day,” she said.

For services to the community, Bhamjee received a merit award from the Women’s Empowerment Forum. and was honoured by the Education, Culture and Welfare Foundation.

Bhamjee originally came from Wolmaranstad in North West. She and her husband came to Pietermaritzburg in 1957. She once explained that they made the move because there were no schools where they lived before and they wanted to give their children, “the best start that we could”.

Her grandson, Faraaz, the son of Ismail and his wife Naseema, who also joined the business, is the third generation involved in the company. Her other grandchildren continue the family tradition of community involvement.

Her grandson Yunus is president of the Inland Cricket Union.

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