‘If I can’t break the fast, she gives me food’
This week Muslims observing Ramadaan have reached the halfway mark of the holy month. SHIREEN MUKADAM went to break her fast with Muslims in Hangberg and Blikkiesdorp. TRACEY ADAMS took the photographs
ONE of the major objectives of fasting in Ramadaan from sunrise to sunset is to know what it feels like to go without food. But for some Cape Town Muslims, there’s nothing unusual about fasting, and there’s often no food in their homes to break their fast at sunset.
“Sometimes there’s nothing,” says 16-year-old Naeema Bonzaaier of Hangberg in Hout Bay. Her aunt Gadija Bonzaaier, 65, who lives with her, whispers: “We haven’t got such a lot of stuff.”
She has never been married, and to get by she does odd jobs like sewing pillowcases at the old age club.
Imam Haashim Peck of Masjidul Bahrain, the only mosque in Hangberg, which overlooks the Hout Bay harbour, says about 120 Muslim families live in the township.
Wednesday night was the 15th night of Ramadaan, and to celebrate reaching the midway milestone of this holy month, the mosque arranged a community iftar (breaking of the fast) for the Muslims of Hangberg and nearby Imizamo Yethu, in the form of a sponsored dinner.
The aroma of mutton curry filled the air. Women bustled around pots on gas stoves.
One woman dished rice with a saucer, then passed it to the woman beside her.
Another dished the curry. “Is dit die laaste rys? Dan gee ons brood,” she said. (Is this the last of the rice? Then we serve bread.)
The food was passed from hand to hand along a human chain, until it reached the hungry congregants, sitting along a makeshift tablecloth made of paper, spread out on the carpet.
For this community, plagued by unemployment, tik and teenage pregnancies, the mosque is a source of solace – and this supper much more than they would eat in their homes.
Many live in crowded conditions in shacks on the mountainside of Hangberg.
The previous night, said Toufeeqa Mohammed, her friend brought her a loaf of bread: “I was so blessed. I went on my knees.”
Mohammed, 34, lives with her boyfriend Ebrahim Wagner and her five children aged three to 18 in a corrugated iron Wendy house. Her eldest son dropped out of school when he was in Grade 8 – just like his mother.
Mohammed left school to help her single mother. She began odd jobs such as ironing clothes, cooking food and cleaning for people, and eventually got a job at a chicken takeaway franchise, which she left eight years ago. She hasn’t found a job since.
Her boyfriend, a bricklayer, is also unemployed.
“If I’ve got bread, I put sandwiches on the table,” Mohammed says. Sometimes her boyfriend goes down to the harbour and brings back a snoek head, or the insides.
“We cook that,” she says. “Sometimes he comes home with a whole snoek. I don’t think you need a lot of food.”
Most community members are part of Hout Bay’s fishing industry.
Waseema Wyngaard’s mother worked in a fish factory and her husband is a fisherman on trawling boats.
“A fisherman’s got a hard life,” says the 36-year-old mother of two girls. “You live from day to day.”
Another Muslim community living on the fringes of the economy is in the Blikkiesdorp temporary relocation area in Delft.
The only way to tell that a tiny shack in the middle of the township is a mosque is by a tall green flag with a crescent and star. This mosque is the central point for about 600 Muslim families in Blikkiesdorp.
“If you fast and don’t have food, you can break your fast at the mosque,” says Badroonisa Morris. “I do it every evening.”
Sometimes there is soup and food, other times there are only dates and oranges.
Morris, 50, has six children. Her husband sells socks, gloves and scarves in Bellville.
“I don’t have food for tonight,” she says. “One day there’s fish in the water, one day there isn’t.”
Her friend Shameila Abrahams, 40, has five children aged one to 19. Abrahams and her husband are both unemployed.
“We cope in Ramadaan because we’re used to not having food.”
She’s embarrassed to ask for food, she says. “If there isn’t, there isn’t (any).”
Zuleiga Dyers, whose husband is a part-time painter, explains how the community members help one another: “If I don’t have, she gives me. If her husband comes home with something, then we share.”
Gadija Williams, 41, who is a madrassa teacher in the mosque, and her 67-year-old pensioner husband live with their five children. They are joined for iftar by 10 other children who have converted to Islam.
“Hulle mammies is op die bottle (their mothers are alcoholics), and some sell drugs,” she says in a combination of English and Afrikaans.
When she received two food parcels from the mosque, she shared them with her Christian neighbours.
She doesn’t know where the food will come from, but believes that it will come.
And when it doesn’t? Well, that’s when she phones her sister.
“This is how we help each other,” she says.
ALL SMILES: Brothers Abdul Mu’iz, 7, and Mubashir Salahudin, 3, enjoy a communal breaking of the fast at Masjidul Bahrain, Hangberg.
PLACE OF WORSHIP: The Blikkiesdorp Islamic Society jamat khana is the only mosque in the area where 600 Muslim families live.
GETTING READY: Yasser Johnson,13, prepares for madrassa. He is surrounded by his mother Toufeeqa Mohammed, and sisters Maleeka (blue), 8, and Aeesha Johnson, 5, in the bedroom of their Wendy house in Hangberg.