By Aslam Khota
Justice Mahomed Jajbhay passed away in early May of Pancreatitis and kidney failure. During his eventful life he interacted with people from diverse backgrounds. The well attended funeral bore testimony to his gracious personality as young and old were there to pay their final respects.
He was a giant amongst men and will be sorely missed. Aslam Khota pays a brief tribute to a long-time family friend. “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” Denis Diderot Mahomed Jajbhay was young, vibrant and always ready to assist his fellowman. His was a multi-faceted life; in sport, within the judiciary, with educators, both Islamic and secular and in international finance, where he prepared a paper to direct Islamic banking toward working within a Shariah framework. You did not need to know him to seek advice or support. He was there, at the ready to share his expertise. From graduates to scholars, secular and religious organizations sought his legal guidance. “Judgie’ was unlike other men or women in his profession. No doubt there is no sin in seeking an honest living, but many will tell you that Mahomed went beyond himself to render a service. Mahomed Jajbhay was the eldest of five siblings, four brothers Ahmed (late), Hafez Faizal, Imran and sister Qudaijah. He was born in Vrededorp or Fietas as it is popularly known on 11th August 1958. He schooled at the Vrededorp Boys Primary and completed his higher primary at Model in Lenasia. His high school years were spent at Lenasia High where he attained highest academic and sporting colours. Mahomed was a debater of note and also captained the school and the Transvaal under-19 and high schools teams.
He achieved national honours in cricket after being selected as vice-captain of the South African High Schools XI. The young and impressionable Mahomed was inspired by his father Ismail who was also an attorney and a batsman par excellence. Ismail is famous for scoring a scintillating 135 not out, out of a total of 191 for the Johannesburg Indian High school team against a senior Wits Union XI which the boys won by eight wickets. His memorable performance against South Africa’s foremost off-spinner, Hugh Tayfield ranks in high in cricket lore. Playing against a Norman Gordon XI, Ismail spanked five consecutive boundaries off Tayfield, who had just returned from South Africa’s triumphant tour against Australia. Feroza, his wife of 29 years described her husband as one who seemed to have enough time for everyone. He dealt with each person with grace and patience. Yusuf his young son describes his dad as a good friend and always encouraged him to do his best whatever he did. Mahomed was clearly excited about the boy’s talents as a batsman and even continued to bowl and coach him between his periods of convalescence. Mahomed was also a pacifist and hated to get into arguments, especially with matters concerning the games administration. I remember a look of concern and a frowned expression that spoke a thousand words. It was the evening after the Gauteng Cricket Boards divisive annual elections in August 2005,where a walkout was sparked due to a rigged voting procedure that unceremoniously ousted the Judge as chairman of the board.
The loss of the position did not matter; it was the loss of trust and betrayal that hurt. As chairman, he had noted that a proposal to co-opt two members of colour saw many abstentions. So he recommended a recount via a private ballot, and the two nominees were subsequently outvoted this time. This was proof he said that those who abstained preferred the private ballot so as to protect their identities and loyalties. It meant that Jajbhay too was not re-elected. The Indicator reported that: “the chairman has lost his seat because he had earlier in the evening reminded the delegates of the failure to implement transformation as agreed at the Vereeniging and Kievietskroon commitments set out in 2000.” Vice-chairman Dr Mohamed Moosajee said at the time that it was a move to oppose the commitment and to oust Jajbhay. He described the delegates as an unreformed voting majority, who were: “dishonest, deceitful and racist!” Moosajee stormed out and was followed by Jajbhay and the rest of their constituents. After years of trusting and serving the board with integrity and diligence he was put to pasture because for the first time in his tenure, he questioned the legality of the election process and demanded action on the transformation. He was determined to change the structures, but his orchestrated defeat prompted him to admit later that; “I trusted my white colleagues and I regret that I didn’t see it coming”. He occupied this position since 2002 and had previously served as the vice- chairman for five years. He was a member of the board since unity and inception in July 1991. Mahomed was fiercely conscious about social reform and responsibility and the effect apartheid had on the ordinary man. In the forward that he contributed in my book, ‘Across the great divide’, he wrote poignantly:
“For those of us privileged to have played under the repressive laws and legislated group areas, it generated definite truths. Among them was the truth that within each human there resides a spark of divinity; that every human person has an equal claim to dignity which inalienable; that the spirit within each of us is matured and elevated by exercising our capacity for the love towards each other; that we grow in the act of giving and sharing; and that the act of giving and sharing is crucial for the emancipation of the giver himself.” He was also positive for the country and its embryonic democracy and continued: “A society not exposed to moral challenges and not privileged with a choice of visible and significant alternatives can easily fall into a state of dreary habit and unconscious decay. A nation sharply sensitized through ethical alternatives and challenged to make visibly relevant choice of values and opportunities, is potentially a nation reborn. The dominant group can be liberated from its fears and the dominated from its anger and frustration.” Mahomed was an intellect and as a visionary his loss is tragic. Judgies life was full and exciting and challenging at the same time. He had the energy and stamina to have served among others; the Independent Electoral Commission, The CCMA, the Land Claims Court. He was later appointed as a senior Counsel and then as a High Court Judge by former president Thabo Mbeki. He dabbled for a while in business. Cricket administration was perhaps the most challenging as he was at the centre of issues pertaining to Transvaal and Gauteng cricket since unity in 1991.
At the onset of his illness, Jajbhay was a member of Cricket South Africa’s legal and governance committee. Jajbhay missed the cut to serve on the constitutional court but was recently short-listed again. He helped students, delivering lectures and programmes on motivation. Mahomed set up a Madressa and a Hafez school in his neighborhood and was legal counsel and advisor for Awqaf South Africa. He often wrote articles for various publications. He played cricket with a care-free spirit and captained Crescents and was a member of their dominant team of the 1980’s. There was a brief stint in Durban while studying at Westville and even played for Fordsburg Spurs and Actonville Spurs. His all-round abilities saw him play and captain at the highest level for Transvaal ‘B’ and the senior team in the coveted Howa Bowl. Mahomed is remembered for his momentous judgment when he was instrumental in granting an interdict against the Sunday Times to stop the publishing of the controversial cartoon of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Justice Jajbhay was also in the centre of the storm when he was responsible for passing the judgment that was upheld by the constitutional court against evicting the poor without providing alternative accommodation. Mahomed was essentially a family man. Between all his responsibilities, he always found the valuable time to be best friends with Feroza, his two daughters Rokaya and Fatima and Yusuf. A sad but brave Feroza accepted their sad loss with courage and said that: “ALLAH has better plans for Mahomed.”