Chapter 1 – My Roots, from Ordinary to Extra Ordinary

“The only thing you take with you when you're gone is what you leave behind” – John Alliston

My grandfather – Mr Essa Suliman 'the ordinary' was born in the State of Gujarat, India, in the year 1900. After the demise of his father 'Suliman', a certain 'Osman Essa', presumably his uncle, adopted him. Under the guardianship of 'Osman', Essa five years old then, arrived in South Africa. After completing his schooling, he worked as a sales assistant at a retail business for an Indian trader in Pretoria.

His arrival to the racially turbulent South Africa coincided with the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1905. This legislation provided for the government’s control of entry of Indians into Transvaal through a special permit. Inadvertently he would later successfully go into loggerheads with a similar in the future.

In 1921, at the age of 21, he married Khatija Hajee Omar from Ranavav, a district of Porbander in the State of Gujarat. Essa returned to South Africa after a year while his wife remained in India. Their first child, Noormohamed Essa, was born in India in 1922, a year after their marriage. It was then that Essa made applications to the state for permission to bring his wife and son over to South Africa. The application was denied, as was the case for all Indian-born citizens at the time. After experiencing great challenges with the application, he decided to quit working for a boss and became a commercial traveller, his intention being to facilitate a higher income in preparation for the legal costs to be incurred for his court case with the Department of Immigration and Asiatic Affairs. While earning his own keep, he also attempted to collect funds from numerous other Indian individuals who had experienced the same difficulties with regard to their immediate families 'stuck' in India. This was the beginning of a protracted and bitter legal battle between him and the proverbial Goliath.

In March 1923, after the demise of his guardian Osman Essa, and about two years after his marriage to Khatija in India, Essa made an application to the Home Affairs office in Transvaal for an official change of name from Essa Osman to Essa Suliman – his birth surname.

Essa soon earned a reputation of being a 'madman' among his community for his audacity in challenging the British Raj of the Union of South Africa.

In May 1928, after a painstaking six years of restrictions, 'red tape', and a lengthy court battle – Essa eventually obtained a permit for his wife Khatija and his son Noormohamed to enter South Africa.

In October 1930, a year before the birth of their third child, Ismail (my Dad), my grandfather Essa Suliman won his case with costs against the state. This victory set a precedent in the South African Immigration Law, whereby each and every South African of Indian origin became eligible to apply for permission to be re-united with their families.

Together, Khatija and Essa had six children, all boys, of which one died in infancy...

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