This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
17 Dec 2003: Maharaj, Shanti
POM Shanti, what I wanted to ask you about is: there were five children from your father's first marriage and then three from the second.
SM Three from the second.
POM Now there must have been quite an age gap between who was the eldest and who was the youngest. Could you go through, maybe, for me the names of everybody and what happened to them and where they went? What happened, where they went, at home, they got married and children, they went off, whatever happened to them.
SM My eldest sister, my Dad's eldest child was a girl and she got married very early, just after she completed her Standard 6.
POM What age would she have been?
SM She must have been about well I was told she was only about 14 or 15 when she got married.
POM So that would be an arranged marriage?
SM That was an arranged marriage.
POM Now after that did she move out of the house?
SM Yes, yes, she was married on the North Coast.
POM On the North Coast?
POM Then she was gone?
POM Did you ever see her again?
SM Yes, we saw her.
POM Would she come back?
SM She came back to visit us whenever they came up country.
POM And did she have a family?
SM Yes, she had a family. Her husband and four boys and a girl.
POM Five, OK. One down. Her name was?
SM Soni. She had another name that was in her birth certificate but this was the name that everybody knew her as. Soni. After her was a son and he was, I think he was born in 1921 I think. I know my second brother was born in 1922. That I know.
POM OK, so probably 1921.
SM Yes could be 1921.
POM So your eldest sister would be about 1920.
SM 1920, 1919, I don't know, I'm not sure.
POM So then his name was?
SM Parasram. They used to all call him P.
POM He would have been what age when you were born? At the time you were born he would have been what age?
SM I was born in 1932 so he must have been born in 1920/21.
POM He would have been 12 or 13. Do you remember him?
SM Yes, very well. He died after I got married. Actually it was a tragedy. I don't know, he got drowned in a river.
POM Oh dear. Was he working or something?
SM He had a family of his own.
POM Did they live in Newcastle?
SM His children are around.
POM In Newcastle?
SM In Newcastle and in Durban. He has got a son in Newcastle. He had two sons in Newcastle, the one is late, the eldest son. The second son is still in Newcastle. No, no, the late son's family is in Newcastle. The second fellow is in Tongaat on the North Coast and the third is in Westville. The daughter is on the North Coast also in La Mercy. They're all married.
POM Do you keep in touch with them?
SM Yes. In fact the daughter was here yesterday.
POM So that's two. Then the third?
SM The third was another boy, a son. He had a family of four boys. Two are late.
POM Do you remember when he was growing up too?
POM He was in the house? Did they work at the petrol station?
SM Yes, yes. Not the youngest, not the third one that we're talking about but the first two.
POM The first two were at the petrol station. Then the third one?
SM The third one, he was working after he got through his Standard 6, because there was no JC, Junior Certificate or matric in those days. So he also, I think he started working in the quarry. My Dad's friend had a quarry.
POM That was a Mr? Do you remember his name?
SM Mr Crankshaw.
POM OK, I remember him. Now they were living at home for a while before they got married. When they got married would they move out?
SM Yes, they got their own places in Newcastle.
POM That would be around Boundary Road, all around Boundary Road?
SM Yes, around.
POM I went up to Boundary Road.
SM You went?
POM I did.
SM Well this brother is also late. His wife is also late now. In fact it's only Mac and myself living in the family.
POM We'd better give you both an injection to keep you going. And his name was?
SM Nainsooklal. They used to call him Nainsook for short.
POM Now didn't he work in the quarry?
SM Yes, but before him was another brother. We didn't talk about him. He was the one that started in the quarry. In fact my eldest brother was in the quarry. He started off in the quarry and he became a blaster. He was the only Indian that held a certificate in those days, a blasting certificate. He lived on the quarry. When my second brother was big enough and he was able to work he also went and worked in the quarry and the little one didn't really, I'm not too sure.
POM That's the little one by the first marriage?
SM Yes, the first one.
POM And the girls?
SM Only that eldest daughter. The baby before the mother died, the mother died during childbirth I think, not during childbirth, after a few days. She was about 11 days old. I know my grandmother used to tell me that. She was 11 days old and my grandmother helped. You know she was quite old and she felt she couldn't look after the baby so there was a relative, because my Dad has no relatives in South Africa, he had no relatives. So these were people that had come on the ship with him and they formed a bond.
POM The Shaiks?
SM Maybe. No, no, not the Shaiks. No. Oh the Shaiks were also like that, yes.
POM These are from your that your father was brought up by? A Muslim family?
SM No, not Muslim. A Hindi family.
SM Hindi family. Also Maharaj family. So she used to call my Dad 'brother'. In those days friendship was more like relatives so she used to call my Dad 'brother' and she was childless so she approached my Dad and she said, "Look, Mother can't look after the baby, I have no children, why don't you let me look after the child?" So my Dad had to think it over because his mother couldn't look after the baby. The baby was 11 days old, and she took over. But she was never registered on their name.
POM So your Dad after his father died
SM Yes, my Dad was seven years old.
POM And he was brought up by?
SM By his mother.
POM By his mother. OK.
SM And no relatives.
POM I thought he had been given out to a family who came over on the boat with your grandfather.
SM Well my sister was given to them, not my Dad.
POM Mac has it the other way round.
SM No, my Dad was brought up by his mother. He was never given away. Yes, the Shaik family held the trust, whatever property and cows and whatever my grandfather had left. The Shaiks were trustees and when my Dad turned 18 they handed it over to him.
POM OK, that makes sense. And then we come down to so the sister who lived in Springs?
SM That was the one. The 11-day old baby. That's it. That makes five.
POM Her name was?
SM Muratmannie, but they used to just call her Mannie for short.
POM Then you had the older brother. Sorry, no, no, then we've got you.
SM Yes, I'm the eldest from my Mum.
POM Then you've got Mac and then you have Kithar. Now Kithar went to university too, right?
SM That's right. He went to the training college, Teachers Training College, and then he went to university to do his degree.
POM Would he visit you too?
SM Yes, yes. In fact it's about going on to four years now we lost him. He died of emphysema.
SM Yes. He died of emphysema and when they moved in here about ten years ago my car got stolen from outside and I said to my husband that we're not going to have another car. We're living here, we can just take the Minor and get into town because he doesn't go anywhere. So I said I'll just take the Minor and get into town. If there's an emergency for him I can get a relative or somebody, a friend, to come and take him around. So Kithar heard about it. Oh, the day my car got stolen Mac was here, he was the Minister of Transport. Right? And there were some people from London that were visiting me and when they heard that Mac was coming they didn't want to leave. They said they must meet him because they had seen him a very long time ago so they wanted to see him. And I brought them over from the city, brought them here, they were here for about half an hour and I was going to take them back. When I went outside, it was six o'clock in the afternoon, January, broad daylight, when I went out there was no car. The car had gone. Then I had to run up here and call Mac and tell him that, "Look, you have to take these people. Now I've got no car." So he took them back from where they came.
POM The Minister of Transport. I'm glad that didn't get out. Were you a close family or was it so far-flung, it sounds like there are so many brothers and sisters and then everybody moved out.
SM You see the sister that was given away, now her adoptive parents, they were worried that my Dad might just call for the child because the child wasn't registered so they tried to keep her away from us. They were scared that he will want her back. So like that now we were not close to her but as days went on after we got married and Mac grew up and Mac went out and he was in Johannesburg and she met him and they became close.
POM She helped him to get out of the country.
POM She helped him to get out of the country.
SM Oh, yes, I don't know about that part.
POM He stopped by her in Springs, she was in Springs.
SM From Springs. He came to me here, from here he went to Jo'burg and whenever he went to Jo'burg he did go and see her.
POM Before he left he came to you?
SM Yes, yes. You mean after he came out of prison?
POM No, before, in 1957.
SM Oh yes. Yes.
POM He had a flat. Where did he have the flat?
SM In Hanson Grove.
POM The Seedats used to live opposite.
SM Yes the Seedats had a cottage just nearby.
POM They were important people. What were they like in terms of Dawood Seedat had been banned a couple of times. Mac used to go and visit there.
SM Yes they had been politicians, yes.
POM I get the impression that he was influenced a lot by them.
SM Well I don't know that part of it because that part of Mac's life I don't know very well, much. But I know the Seedats were good friends because the Seedats are also from Newcastle, they've got relatives in Newcastle.
POM So when the three of you were at home growing up who else was in the house then when you were growing up?
SM My Mum, my Dad, my grandmother, myself, my step-brother, the youngest one, the one that's late now, I told you. His wife and Kithar, he was then married.
POM His wife was there too?
SM Yes, he had just got married. I think I was with his wife for about a year and then I got married. He got married a year before me.
POM So how many of you were in the house at the same time?
SM Just before I got married it was my Dad, my Mum, myself, my grandmother had died.
POM But when you were growing up, when you were kids, how many people were in the house?
SM My grandmother was living.
POM Your grandmother was in the house?
SM Yes. My Mum and Dad, my brother.
POM That's Kithar? And Mac.
SM Kithar was a little boy, and Mac.
POM And the rest had moved out.
SM Then that brother moved out later. I got married and then my grandmother died after I got married, three weeks after I got married she died. And Mac was already in town here in Durban doing his studies. So there was nobody left there.
POM Big house. I went out and saw it. They're just changing it now. Somebody bought it.
SM No, nobody bought it. It's my step-brother's daughter that had been living with my mother. It's a long story, I don't know if Mac told you that story.
SM They actually that place there was for Mac and Kithar and myself because across the road there was another property where the garage is. Have you seen the garage? That was all ours.
POM The garage was yours?
SM Yes, it was my brother's.
POM He owned the garage?
POM Now which brother owned that?
SM The middle one. Not the eldest. The second one.
POM By the first marriage. That is a thriving garage. It's big.
SM Yes he owned it. My brother owned it. And Mac was overseas and my mother couldn't give him anything. My Dad couldn't give him anything because you see what happened now, you know when you have steps in the family they always feel that, oh, they're going to be done down or something. So I went up to my Dad and I told my Dad, I said, "Look, we've got, now you know there are steps in the family, and we don't want that after he goes my mother must have any problems." So while he's living, he's got the other property, give it to the other sons, let them have it, because my second brother wanted to open a garage. So I said, "Look, he wants to do something. It's only lying vacant. Let him have it and let him do something." So my Dad put that property, it was 1½ acres, he put it on my late brother's wife's name, a part of it, on the third son's name, and on Kithar. The second and third son and Kithar, so there were four divisions in that property but Mac did not get anything from there because it was intended that should anything happen to my mother this property now, where the building is being renovated, was going to come to Mac and myself and Kithar.
But in between a lot of crookery happened there and my third brother's daughter, because she was with my mother when my mother fell ill, I don't know what they did. It was terrible. You know when you talk about lawyers messing up the whole thing, that's exactly what happened to Kithar because this girl collared the whole thing. She got a guy, a Commissioner of Oaths that was a friend of theirs to sign. My mother never ever put a fingerprint, she always signed her name on all documents, but suddenly she had taken ill, they put her into hospital, they didn't tell Kithar, they didn't tell us or anything that she's in hospital. About two or three days she was in hospital. On the Saturday morning she was very, very ill and she couldn't talk or anything and then they phoned to tell us that my mother is not well. So Kithar came to me and he said, "Look, Mummy is not well we'd better go down." The next minute we get a call to say she's gone. In the meantime we don't know they got this Commissioner of Oaths, they got my niece now, who made it I don't know, made out a will saying that my mother is now giving everything to her. So out of that property now we tried to do something but we didn't have a good lawyer and it just messed up and we just left it. Because Mac wasn't here and it was Kithar only that was and he used to actually send people to cut the grass there. He used to pay my Mum's sewer. He used to look after everything because you have different payments. You've got to pay separate for sewer, separate for refuse, you've got to pay separately for electricity, you've got to pay rates, and Kithar used to do everything for her until he got this big shock of his life.
SM But you know what happened? She cut up that land into about nine pieces. If you look at that land properly you would see the house, some are this way, some are that way. It's not properly planned at all. She sold those pieces. She build herself a house there. Now what I can think only is that
POM So you were saying that after now is she still living there?
SM I'm just telling you what happened. She built a big house for herself, she kept a plot for herself. Now I just heard that she sold that house of hers, it looks like they're running out of money, and they are trying to renovate that old shop.
POM That's right. I went by there and they're renovating it. Somebody said it had been sold. I went looking for somebody but there was nobody around at the time I got there. I'm going to go back again until they all know me.
SM Do they know you?
POM They don't know me, but everybody in the road will soon know who's this Irishman who comes up and down wanting to know about it. But I went and I saw the house. I looked at it, I went back and I looked at it and I saw how it went back. There's a big Moslem mosque right beside. It wasn't there when you were growing up?
SM No. I don't know of that. You know we were so heartbroken that we didn't want to even go to Newcastle because it was terrible what she did and my mother used to be always worried about Mac. Her concern was about Mac. She said, "He is overseas. If he comes here he will need something." And they didn't even think of that.
POM So is she married?
SM She's married to a guy, a good for nothing guy.
POM So what relationship would she be to you?
SM She's my niece.
POM When you say she's your niece now, she would have been?
SM My step-brother's daughter.
POM I'm very bad on relationships. I used to have an aunt who could give relationships and go back and say it was a third cousin of the second, related to the first cousin of the fourth cousin. But I have no talent for that at all.
SM This is my step-brother's daughter.
POM Now this would be your second brother?
SM My third brother's daughter. Third step-brother's daughter.
POM So it's third brother's daughter.
SM That's living there now.
POM And her name is?
POM Her second name would be?
SM You mean her surname? She goes under her husband's. I don't know, he's not a Maharaj. His first name is Charles. Well that could be his nickname too, I don't know.
POM Patricia and I went and we saw the garage, it's right opposite the house being renovated. We went by looking for somebody about four doors back and that might have been him, that they had owned the property on the edge? If the road goes, you're coming off
SM He's a tall, dark looking guy.
POM I didn't see him but you have the garage here, the house is here, this is Boundary, and this I think was Centre
SM Centre Street I think. Yes.
POM Yes, and the garage is there and about the fourth person down.
SM Yes, that was her house.
POM He wasn't there, there was nobody there.
SM But I hear they've sold it.
POM They're renovating, so they haven't sold it. It's still in the family.
SM The shop. Yes. Well as far as what I know. This is hearsay also. We didn't get it from the horse's mouth.
POM Nobody does these days. There are too many horses, or too many mouths. I was fascinated when you said to me that I understand Mac wasn't very close to Kithar.
SM No, they were very close because, just that there was a big break, they were not together because Kithar was still young, he was at school, Mac had come away to Durban to study and that was in 1951 or 1952.
SM Because I got married in 1953 so he was here before that. I think 1952 he had come to Durban and Kithar was still in secondary school. Then when he got out of secondary school he did come to Durban. They lived together in a flat.
POM They did? In?
SM In Durban here. For a while they lived together, and then Mac went overseas.
POM So was he staying with Kithar?
SM For a short while.
POM In the flat opposite where the Seedats lived?
SM For a short while in that flat. I don't think for very long, for a short while. And then Mac was gone overseas. So there was a big break after that. But when he got out of prison Kithar is the one that used to go with Tim and with my mother to visit him there in prison. He used to drive them down. Well Tim used to go all the time but he used to drive my mother down.
POM Did Tim work in Cape Town for a while?
SM Cape Town I don't know. I know she worked in Durban.
POM To be closer to make visits.
SM No, she used to go from Durban. She worked in Newcastle in the hospital there also.
POM Newcastle too?
SM Yes, the African township hospital. Madadeni.
POM I saw her the other night, I had dinner with her.
SM Good. We get on well.
POM She was in good form.
SM Yes. She and I get on alright but we don't see each other too often but when we do see each other we get on quite well.
POM Everybody is getting on you know. You'd better see each other. One day you'll say
SM I feel sorry for her really. I do feel sorry for her.
POM But why?
SM I don't know. Well I don't know what the problem was. They know best.
POM Mac wasn't very nice to her.
SM I felt that way.
POM Good. I think even Mac knows that.
SM Because I felt she really went out of her way. She used to go and see him. She used to get his books. She used to take my mother down. She used to always correspond with my mother and let her know what's happening. Then God knows what happened.
POM These things happen when people are separated for 12 years. People change.
SM I haven't asked her as yet what happened because I feel I shouldn't and I didn't even ask Mac.
POM I think Mac is a little bit, to be honest, even today, because I've tackled him on it. I don't mind tackling him at all. I've got no problem. I said, "You and I are doing a book." He squiggles a little bit. What was I going to say to you? When I saw her the other night she said, "Now we're not going to talk about Mac." What do you think we spent the whole evening talking about?
POM Mac. She gave me a little package with photographs of when he was at college and a ring she had still in the box to give back to him. I'll see Mac on Friday.
SM You gave it to him?
POM Yes, but I want to soften Mac up to write her a letter and say it was a long time ago, I know I wasn't very kind, I know what you did for me and I want you to know it crosses my mind because I remember those first years. He's getting closer. He's not there yet.
SM She used to come here. Tim used to come here. I used to sew for her too.
POM I like her a lot. She's nice and earthy. When you went to I couldn't believe it reading back on the interview, we can leave it with you so you can go through it and read it and correct it. But you talked about going to when you got a call from Mac and he was in Germany and he said, "Hey, you, pack up. Come to Lusaka."
SM Yes, he says, "Don't you want to come there for a weekend or so?" And I was quite taken aback. I told my husband and in a way I was quite happy to go because I didn't see him for so long. So when we went there then he put the cards on the table and said, "I want you to come here." But I did go there, we did have a little
POM Now why did you go there? Why did you go if all your life was here?
SM No, no, he wanted me to look after his children.
POM I know, so you just said: I've got to do that?
SM I gave up everything. I gave up my teaching. I took long leave. I took a year's leave. Out of that year's leave I had about six months on full pay, then three months on half pay and another three months on quarter pay, and I went down there. I think, I don't know, Mac was already here.
POM Yes, he was. But why did you move?
SM Zarina was going to be out of the country all the time and there was nobody with the children.
POM You hadn't heard from your brother for how many years?
SM Oh, long.
POM A long time. So he rings and says, "Hey, come down."
SM The last I heard from him was when my second step-brother died, I spoke to him on the phone and he was overseas somewhere, I don't know where.
POM So you gave up everything.
SM I gave up everything.
POM Now why did you do that?
SM Because I think to help him, to help him. I thought if I don't help him when he needs me then it's useless.
POM Did you love him that much?
SM Of course I do. Even though I'm not with him all the time I do love him.
POM It's an extraordinary love. You stopped your life here completely.
POM You stop it. You haven't seen this man for
SM And he didn't want us to come back. He didn't want us to come back. He says when the country changes everything changes and we'll go back together. But unfortunately, unfortunately, I had to make a decision whether I should lose my job here and be there, and Zarina is not the easiest person to be with.
POM I've heard that. That's kind of putting it mildly.
SM Yes. That was my only reason.
POM I mean I know Zarina too and I would say she's a difficult piece of stuff.
SM That's what I'm telling you. She's not the easiest of persons to be with.
POM Was she ill during that time? Had she had the accident?
SM She had the accident just before I came.
POM So when you got there was she in hospital?
SM No, no. When I got there she was well and fit and she was working for I think the United Nations.
POM No, it's the British
SM Embassy or something like that. Yes. Well this is what Mac told me, that he wants me to be there with the children, he wants me to take care of the children because Zarina is busy and she will need to get out of the country now and then and then there's nobody with the children. I said, "Fine." But the problem that cropped in there was you know children, you've got to guide them and there were certain times that she didn't like it and the children were very attached to us. So I think, I don't know, so I had to make a very difficult decision because if I didn't come back in January then I would have lost my job.
POM That was January 1988 or 1989?
SM I think 1988.
POM Because Mac would have been in the country.
SM Mac was in the country.
POM Then Zarina had her accident when you were there.
SM She had the accident towards either the end of November or beginning of December. I came back to Durban. I came to Durban. My husband, oh yes, now he was gone for his operation.
POM Thing in Moscow.
SM Mac had sent him. I don't know how they did it but he was gone there. So they were going to operate on him. The decision was going to be his. He said, "Fine, I rather go through with it." They took him into the theatre his heart rate fell to 38 and they said they can't do the operation. So then Mac wasn't there, Zarina was there.
POM Zarina was in Moscow?
SM No she was in Lusaka but she went to London and she came and things like that. There was another guy. Whenever she went away there was another guy by the name of Ivan. Do you know Ivan?
POM Yes, Ivan Pillay.
SM Ivan Pillay, yes. Ivan Pillay used to be there with us because they said that whenever we need anything Ivan is going to see to it. So Ivan was there.
POM Very nice.
SM Very nice guy. Then I don't know what it was, I think it was a party or something, I don't know, and she went into this tree in Lusaka and all that night we waited and we didn't hear from her. We were so worried. Early in the morning we got a message to say that she is in hospital, she had had an accident. That's how it was.
POM She was very badly hurt.
SM Well when she was in Lusaka they said she's alright. They sent her home. But she was in a lot of pain and then she made some other arrangement. I don't know who, the doctor or somebody that came, said, "No, the best thing is to fly her out to Harare." She was in hospital there. Now the kids were with me because they were still at school. I used to drive them to school and bring them home and do all the shopping and everything. I used to virtually run the place for them.
POM So she was in Harare in hospital. You were running the house.
SM Yes, yes, right through. From the time I went there I started running the house. She became a bit I don't know, I'm only telling you that. I don't know whether I should talk about it or not.
POM That's OK. I'll treat it the right way. You'll get it back and you look at it and you can say, "Padraig, I don't want to talk about that." OK?
SM You see Mac told her that he wasn't able to do anything for his mother and now that his sister is here he feels that if he does something for me he's doing it for his mother. And I don't know whether this little bit of jealousy or what had crept into her mind because there was a sort of thing between them which I didn't take part in but I did hear about it. I didn't worry about it but when she had this accident the last straw was when we were in Harare. When the children finished school she said I must bring them over to Harare and she had a friend that had given them the granny cottage to use.
POM In Harare?
SM In Harare. So I said OK, as soon as the school closes, and I flew to Harare with the two children. She picked us up at the airport and that's the day from the airport we went into one of the shops, supermarkets to buy certain things, groceries and things like that, and I started shivering in that supermarket. I was shivering and I'm a person that I don't get sick quickly. I told Zarina, I said, "Zarina, I am sick. I am feeling cold and I know I'm sick. I want to go to a doctor before we get anywhere." She also suspected that I had malaria and I did have malaria. I got to the doctor immediately, didn't even go home, got to the doctor and the doctor gave me an injection and tablets and said, "You're very lucky you've come in immediately but it will take a little bit of time, about three weeks to get over something like that." Then I went home, I was still very, very sick and I had to be in bed for about two weeks and something happened.