Alan, you’ll be warmly re­mem­bered by us Fi­etas peo­ple

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Feizel Mam­doo Film-maker and her­itage, arts and cul­ture worker Joburg

ALAN DID not de­serve to die the way he did. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports his hands and feet were tied, a T-shirt stuffed in his mouth and he was stran­gled with a rope. He was 77 years old. Alan, poor gen­tle Alan. I prob­a­bly last saw him in my ninth year, in 1968, the year my fam­ily were forced out of Vrede­dorp, known as Fi­etas. I would have popped into the shop that hugged the cor­ner where a dirt al­ley­way from 19th Street met 20th Street which Alan ran with his sis­ter Ming, and be given a hand­ful of sweets from one of the jars on the counter with kind smil­ing eyes be­hind spec­ta­cles.

It’s been my en­dur­ing mem­ory of Alan over th­ese many years. He fig­ures large in the nostal­gia for a com­mu­nity whose body was phys­i­cally torn down and soul gut­ted un­der the Group Ar­eas Act of apartheid.

The de­struc­tion of the closeknit com­mu­nity of Fi­etas would have cast Alan, Ming and the hand­ful of its other Chi­nese mem­bers into the wilder­ness of a void. Un­like the African, In­dian and coloured clas­si­fied mem­bers of the com­mu­nity who were pro­vided for in sep­a­rate race­based town­ships, Chi­nese South Africans were not. They were al­lowed to live in white des­ig­nated ar­eas, as long as the white res­i­dents of those ar­eas did not ob­ject.

Like oth­ers, Fat Harry for ex­am­ple, a fix­ture of 14th Street that Nat Nakasa wrote was world fa­mous for its bazaar, lit­tle came to be heard of Alan and Ming, save for an oc­ca­sional chance en­counter that brought word of heart­sore and lives never the same.

As Mud­ney Halim of 18th Street re­lates in a trib­ute on the Face­book group es­tab­lished by for­mer res­i­dents of Fi­etas, Alan and Ming were part of the fab­ric of our com­mu­nity, of its tastes, sights, sounds and smells. That’s why it hurts that on dis­cov­ery of his body, Alan was pre­sumed a re­cent im­mi­grant, and not hav­ing any trace­able next of kin, was re­ported to the Chi­nese em­bassy. We of his com­mu­nity were ren­dered un­trace­able by the rup­ture of his­tory.

With Alan’s death broke the news, too, of the death of Ming some two years ago. She never re­cov­ered from an as­sault suf­fered in yet another rob­bery at the lit­tle shop they ran on the cor­ner of Proser­pine and Jill streets in Langlaagte.

Wal­ter Pon, an elder in the Chi­nese com­mu­nity who was con­tacted by the Chi­nese em­bassy and dis­cov­ered the mur­dered vic­tim to be his old school friend, says Alan and Ming had suf­fered at least 10 rob­beries at their shop in Langlaagte.

Zunaid Mall, also of 20th Street and who passed the shop from time to time, said it had been barred up like a prison.

Yet while Alan and Ming were in­te­gral and long-stand­ing mem­bers of the Fi­etas com­mu­nity, lit­tle is known about them. This was the irony of bonded and co­he­sive com­mu­ni­ties like Fi­etas, lay­ered with dis­tinc­tions of cul­ture, class, race and re­li­gion.

Salim Ebrahim, known oth­er­wise as Sam be­cause near ev­ery­one in Fi­etas had a nick­name, says in some ways Alan and Ming, whose name was ac­tu­ally June, kept to them­selves. Sam re­mem­bers vis­it­ing the shop in Fi­etas after school in Le­na­sia, to which most mem­bers of the com­mu­nity had been moved. Alan told them he had come to South Africa from main­land China. Alan and Ming prob­a­bly im­mi­grated with or fol­lowed their par­ents be­cause Za­rina Mia, also of 20th Street, re­mem­bers their par­ents in and about the shop from an ear­lier time.

“He stocked what was called Stones Cloudy Fer­mented Ginger Beer which we reg­u­larly went there for,” says Sam.

“We would sit on his fridge and he would talk to us, almost se­cre­tively, about the pol­i­tics of China. It was as if he felt watched by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and al­ways had his all-band ra­dio qui­etly tuned in to a Chi­nese sta­tion,” says Sam.

By 1979 when Sam’s fam­ily moved to Le­na­sia, Alan and Ming were still in the shop in the then-dec­i­mated Fi­etas.

Mr Pon re­veals Alan’s sur­name to have been Ho. He says Alan ac­quired the Langlaagte shop some 25 years ago, and as in Fi­etas, lived in a house be­hind the shop.

I want to shout at the robbers that Alan was one of our own, a highly wor­thy and fondly held hu­man be­ing, whom they dared not to know any­thing about and to kill with a venom that is spat at aliens.

But as mem­bers of Alan’s com­mu­nity we re­claim him, mo­bil­is­ing through the Fi­etas group on Face­book to join in lay­ing him to rest and bid­ding him a fi­nal farewell. As Mud­ney writes, we are next of kin by mem­ory of a place beau­ti­fully shared and lived.

THE WAY IT WAS: Moth­ers carry their in­fants down a pave­ment along Park Road in Fords­burg. Th­ese fam­i­lies had just re­ceived no­tice that they would be moved to Le­na­sia. Fur­ther down this road is a Hindu Tem­ple which would be de­mol­ished. The writer tells of a shop­keeper from that time who was re­cently killed in his shop which had moved to Langlaagte.

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