During the 1950’s Mr Ahmed Suleman and his family lived on the corner of Gush and Main Roads in Howick, where they ran a General Store.
Nowadays, he trades in the park (Market Square) opposite, three times a week. “I am almost back where I started!” he says with a smile. The Group Areas Act moved him from his home and shop in 1972, but many of his old customers still come to buy their fruit and vegetables from him beneath the trees.
His six children all attended school right next door to their home, a neighbour had a couple of cows that provided their family with fresh milk and his wife, Miriam, remembers the youngsters playing in Symmonds Stream on summer days. “These really were the ‘good old days’, we were all races and religions mixed up. Those times are irreplaceable.” The Ahmed family now live in Howick West, where they are very happy. “Here we have the best views in the district – right across Midmar.”
Mr Ahmed (as he is called by all his customers) operated businesses in Morling and Bell Streets, but when the Zenzele community was moved to Mpophomeni, his customer base dried up. About 20 years ago, he decided to become mobile. Many people remember his old Toyota bakkie – nicknamed the Green Mamba – and buying dried guava rolls from him allong with the weekly veg.
Each morning, he leaves home at 5am to get to the Market in Pietermaritzburg to buy fresh produce for his customers. Twice a week he sets up at Amberfield, where many of his old customers and friends live now. He gets on well with everyone and most days there is a bit of reminiscing across the bags of apples. “I have never had to advertise in all these 60 years – word of mouth is the best advertising,” he says proudly. Despite being well into his 80’s, Mr Ahmed does still not use a calculator to add up purchases, doing the sums quickly in his head instead.
For the past ten years, Howick Homesteader Pam Haynes has been a regular customer and grateful beneficiary of waste vegetables and fruit three times a week. “Mr Ahmed has been more than generous, often giving me perfectly good fruit and vegetables that are simply bruised, meaning our family often feasts on homemade apple pies and fruit salad. Our free-range chickens and guinea pigs have grown plump on discarded produce that would otherwise have rotted in the landfill. Whatever is inedible has been turned into compost to feed the grateful earthworms in our food garden! We really appreciate the wonderful service that Mr Ahmed and his friendly family and staff provides to our homestead family.”
Surrounded by fresh food daily, we wonder – does he have a favourite dish? ”I love all vegetables. Miriam is an excellent cook – I eat whatever I am given.” Mr Ahmed embraces the ideals of strong community, good food and hard work to ensure a balanced and healthy life.
Mr Ahmed died in May 2017, just after this story was published. He did get to read it in the Meander Chronicle while he was in hospital. He is sadly missed by many.