District 6 activist remembered

Shahied Ajam at the Castle of Good Hope in February this year, where he spoke at the event to commemorate 54 years since District Six was declared a whites-only area by the apartheid state. Mr Ajam passed away on Saturday.

Shahied Ajam has been remembered as a just and fair man who took on some of the most powerful people in the country to fight for the rights of those forced out of District Six under apartheid.

Mr Ajam was the chairman of the District Six Working Committee (D6WC). His sudden death on Saturday June 6 came as a shock to claimants and members of his committee.

According to his family, he died of a heart attack at his home in Kensington. He was 62.

Mr Ajam was born in Caledon Street, District Six, in 1958, the eldest of five siblings.

His family would move out of District Six after the forced removals in 1966.

At 16 he started working at an insurance company and later joined an Athlone law firm.

He spent 28 years in Windhoek, Namibia where he raised his three daughters.

As leader of the D6WC, he fought since 2013 to get restitution for former District Six residents forcefully removed from the neighbourhood after it was declared a whites-only area under apartheid.

Under his watch, his organisation, together with the law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, took the South African government to court in 2018, accusing it of dragging its feet over District Six restitution. They won the case in November of that year.

His organisation also initiated the process that saw Keizersgracht Street renamed to Hanover Street – its original name and an iconic part of District Six – on Heritage Day last year.

This year, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development unveiled a plan to start the restitution process and begin developing District Six by the end of November.

It was a plan that satisfied the D6WC along with the City of
Cape Town and provincial government.

During the Covid-19 crisis,
Mr Ajam’s organisation has run feeding schemes in Hanover Park, Langa, Retreat, Tafelsig, Heideveld, Scottsdene, Manenberg, Bonteheuwel, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu.

D6WC founding member Zahrah Nordien said Mr Ajam’s death had shocked everyone. “He wasn’t sick; he just had a severe heart attack.”

The committee would continue his work and legacy and bring people home to District Six, she said.

D6WC director Maxia Mahloane said Mr Ajam had died with much humanitarian work still to do.

On the day of his death, he had been due to attend a meeting to discuss the feeding schemes, she said.

Shamiel Hoosain, who does public relations work with D6WC, called Mr Ajam his mentor.

“I have never met a man like that in my life. He was just and fair, and had high morals which he brought back to society.”

Mayor Dan Plato visited
Mr Ajam’s home in Kensington to pay his respects.

“His death is a sad moment for the whole of Cape Town, looking at his role as chairperson of D6WC. He was a great leader of the people; he engaged national ministers and departments, and he always ensured that there was at least a minister at his meetings.”

The Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, expressed her condolences to the Ajam family.

“Mr Ajam will always be remembered for his tireless work in pursuit of restitution for thousands of former District Six residents whom he mobilised and represented with devotion and selflessness.”

Mr Ajam’s sister, Faldelah Ajam, said her brother was gone too soon.

“He always wanted to help and give back to the community. We supported him and were very proud of what he was doing, and I shared a close bond to him, and I am going to miss him dearly.”

Mr Ajam’s mother, Shariefa Ajam, 79, who stays in Hanover Park, and is also awaiting restitution, said she prayed the community honoured her son’s legacy.

“They must love one another and support one another and continue fighting for justice.”

Mr Ajam leaves behind his wife, Waggieda Ajam, his three children, his three step children and five grandchildren.

His janaaza was held at his home on Saturday June 6 and he was laid to rest at the Johnston Road Muslim Cemetery in Belgravia.