The ‘mother of the struggle in Cape Town’ and the ‘mother of the Islamic movement in South Africa’ is how two activists Anwar Nagia, chairman of the District Six Trust and Yusuf Mohamedy of the Muslim Youth Movement described Hadjie Ghairoonesa Hendricks when they learnt of her passing away. Achmat Cassiem who was imprisoned on Robben Island and who made the dua at the mosque revealed that the deceased’s code name was Mrs Shaikh in the early days of the resistance movement in District Six during the 1960s.
Mrs Hendricks died peacefully in her sleep in Pinelands at her son’s residence on 28 August at the age of 88 years just before Jumua prayers.
Judge Seraj Desai paid his respects during the night vigil as well as New Unity Movement, Pagad and PAC stalwarts. She was a founder member of the first New Unity Movement branch in Cape Town and attended the formations of most of the civic and struggle movements which formed the resistance in District Six.
Mrs Hendricks led the first march of affected District Six residents and led the “Hands Off” District Movement formed by Judge Desai. While she was one of the first to apply for restitution to District Six, she moved her name down the list several times “as other people needed a place to stay more than me”.
Mrs Hendricks had a grocery store and a drapery store in the Draai Docks in District 6. The drapery store was a front for a safe house mostly for women visiting their husbands on Robben Island. She always wanted to return to District Six said her son former Councillor Ganief Hendricks but she wanted to move in with the last batch of returning residents. Like the Palestinians, she treasured her house keys for decades for the day she would return to live in District Six.
Mrs Hendricks was ready to travel to Flagstaff in Transkei to testify in favour of Dr Archie Mafeje in 1963 at his trail for addressing an illegal gathering but turned back when his family accepted to pay a fine. She protested when Sir Richard Luyt cancelled his appointment as a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town and later advised Mr Mafeje not to accept an honorary degree after it was offered to him during his life time. His family later accepted the degree after his death. She visited him days before he died and they agreed to make peace with UCT. Archie’s wife phoned from Egypt to tell the Hendricks family Mrs Shaikh was Archie’s real mother.
She chased away special branch operatives when they came to arrest Judge Fikele Bam at her home. She also comforted him when UCT banned him from using the University pool while he was a student and phoned the University to complain about his treatment and that of Philip Skosana who led the 1960 Langa March. Both were regular visitors at her District Six home.
Days later Bam was arrested and jailed on Robben Island. At the instructions of her husband she sent her kids with a warm plate of food for Mafeje and Bam while they were awaiting trial and washed their white shirts so “that they could look like leaders” in front of the magistrate. She even bribed the warders with food to treat detainees well and packed a hamper for warders taking awaiting trial prisoners by train to the courts in the Transkei. They in turn brought her letters from these prisoners with sensitive information which they hid in their shoes.
She burnt Mafeje’s letters when he was arrested. One letter was from the Chiefs in the Transkei expressing their support for the armed struggle which he brought back from one of his meetings in Flagstaff.
Mrs Hendricks led the protest against the Coloured Representative Council for using land bordering District Six and De Waal Drive to build houses for their Ministers and stood firm on the picket line against the army sent out to disperse them.
For Dullah Omar this was one of the turning points of the resistance and he threatened to bring a magistrate to the playing fields where the sporting protest was held. Mrs Hendricks insisted that the sports events be completed and awarded trophies to the winners.
Mrs Hendricks was the Head of the Women’s Leaque of Shura formed by the Muslim Judicial Council in 1968 to establish the Muslim Cape Parliament. She was also a madressa teacher following the example of her brothers who were both Sheikhs and world famous reciters of the Quran.
Her sister Aysha Booley was the most senior madressa teacher in Cape Town before she left to get married in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. Her granddad Hadjie Ozer Ally of the Transvaal Indian Congress gave the ANC its name and her father in law was a secretary of the Natal Indian Congress. On the ANC’s 100th anniversary a statuette was made of Mr Ally as one of its early elders.
The struggle knows no religion for her, said her son who accompanied her in all her activities since the age of 9. She edited his autobiography “I was a child in District 6” and completed the task months before she passed away. Ganief stated that although it is his autobiography the book, it is all about her.
“As I realized she was aging fast I printed a hardcover digital copy which she read and further edited. After hearing the many tributes that followed her death I have to further edit the book.” VOC