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