Khan, also known as “Mama” or “Aunty Riefa”, was born in 1921 in Vryburg in the North West. Her family came to Cape Town in 1928, and lived in Muizenberg and later Kensington where her father had the first halaal butchery in the area, before she married her husband Dawood Khan, an Indian migrant living in District Six.
Her parents were Indian migrants too. Her father was Ahmad Khan Deshmukh of Upper Tudil and her mother was Gadija Mallak, whose father was a Kokni merchant from the Shriwardhan area.
Mrs Khan has fond memories of living in the Bailey Flats in Hanover Street, close to the Avalon Bioscope. The couple had six children.
She and her husband had the famous Bombay Café, also known as Dout’s Café, at number 238 Hanover Street, next door to doctor Shafeeda’s surgery. Her chef husband, nicknamed Dout, made excellent mutton curry, rooti and dhaljie, while former residents still remember her famous samoosas and the falooda which she made in Ramadan. Until the age of 99, she could still fold more than 1000 samoosas in a week and today can still manage half of that.
Mrs Khan feels pride in the fact that many famous District Six residents were regulars at their café, including Taliep Petersen and his father Mogamat Ladien Petersen, a taxi driver in Hanover Street, ballet legend Johaar Mosaval, who practised on the Seven Steps and during his lunchtimes came to buy his teachers rooti, the late Judge Esa Moosa, the late District Six Working Committee (D6WC) chairman Shahied Ajam and former premier Ebrahim Rasool. Ajam later did his law articles at Moosa’s legal firm.
In the spirit of Kanala, or Ubuntu as people say today, the Khans put out five or six tables stacked with treats for the community each Ramadan. During the 1940s, District Six was a place of religious tolerance and diversity, and all the neighbourhood’s children would observe the breaking of the fast together in the evenings, regardless of their cultural beliefs.
The Khan family endured their fair share of tragedy. They lost two daughters – one was killed by a drunk driver in 1959 and another died of leukaemia in 1965. A year later, on the holiest day of the week, a Friday, on the 11th February 1966, the Apartheid regime declared District Six a white area, and shortly thereafter the family received a letter that they would have to move – and packed for Rylands.
From 1968 onwards, 74 000 residents were forcibly removed to the Cape Flats. Khan says they did not want to move but had no choice. Only the masjids (mosques), churches and schools were spared. The rest of the neighbourhood was destroyed.
“We cannot forget the pain, anguish, dehumanisation, deprivation and degeneration which the forced removals brought upon us. Now in my old age, I still remember the pain of seeing how our homes were bulldozed and the day my husband had to up a sign in the shop window saying it would be closing down,” says Khan.
“No one will ever understand how painful it is to stand on a patch of waste ground where your house once was. I want to die in District Six – it’s my last wish.“
Mrs Khan is waiting to hear if she has made it onto the government’s shortlist for an apartment in Hanover Street as part of Phase Three of the restitution process. Although the process has been slow, Mrs Khan has never given up hope of returning to District Six in her lifetime.
“I always say we were poor but happy in District Six. I don’t understand why they had to move us like criminals, the only thing we did wrong was not being white.”
Mrs Khan’s family is planning to celebrate her centenary with an iftar dinner this weekend in Rylands. The D6WC will visit her to congratulate her.