Ebrahim Moosa – Cii News | 29 April 2013

“This award does not belong to me. It belongs to all the women and men that do unselfish, involuntary, unpaid work in service of humanity.”

Even after having been awarded one of South Africa’s greatest national honours, Suraya Bibi Khan remains unflustered.  “I do my work because the recognition is on the day we stand in front of Allah with our good and bad deeds,” she told Cii Radio this morning.

On the weekend when South Africans commemorated 19 years of freedom, Khan was among a distinguished legion of citizens honoured by President Jacob Zuma at a special award giving ceremony where National Orders were bestowed on outstanding South African and foreigners who had been deemed to make a positive and meaningful contribution to the country’s social, economic and political advancement.

Khan, a resident of Lenasia was celebrated “for her selflessness and outstanding contribution to the upliftment of disadvantaged communities in South Africa and abroad and her tireless voluntary work in the community where she lives,” with the Order of the Boabab, a conferral on South African citizens for distinguished service.

According to the South African History Online(SAHO) website, the order is bestowed on those who go well above and beyond the ordinary call of duty, recognizing exceptional and distinguished contributions in categories such as nation building, journalism, business, technological innovation and community service.

Khan said she received the news of her nomination with shock, having to repeatedly verify the news prior to arriving at acceptance.  “This is not something that you would expect ever in your life. You are not doing it for that reason. You are not doing it for recognition.”

The activist said receiving the award from the State President was a humbling experience. “You feel empty, you feel like: ‘Ya Allah, you stripped me of all my deeds, because it is not supposed to be flaunted. It is not something that people should not about. It should be done quietly. This is how I understand my Deen.”

Khan said she was springboarded into activism during the days of Apartheid when she saw the injustices meted out to people of colour in relation to services such as the pension system. In spite of the disparity in allowances paid to people of different races, she and a group of women were successful in running a campaign to enable elderly people who lacked adequate documentation to procure their ID’s and hence be entitled to a pension. She also advocated for the rights of domestic workers and called for them to be afforded the appropriate human dignity.

“We did things in those days that people did not think was necessary,” she added.

Among other kinds of civic action Khan had associated herself with were housing issues in Johannesburg, the establishment of a community health clinic in Lenasia South and the rabble rousing for better transport and bus services in Johannesburg’s South.

In 2003, Khan was part of a delegation of South Africans who journeyed to Iraq to lodge her opposition to the impending US-led invasion of the country and express her solidarity with the Iraqi people, in a role that was saw her mistakenly being described as a human shield. Reminiscing on the turbulent days she spent in Iraq, the activist said herself and colleagues faced a storm from reporters embedded with the US-led coalition at the time, who insinuated that the activists were doing the bidding of the Saddam regime, an accusation she fiercely contests.

Khan, who had cut her teeth in activism locally, said she deemed it necessary to be active globally as well, due to the interconnectedness of the world.

“We were there for Iraq, but also for the cost of living implications that such a war would have..The heightened prices of commodities due to the war – that ‘Coalition of the Willing’ should then take responsibility for the poverty we all were having to deal with.”

The honorary recipient said she still remained deeply occupied with social development at grassroots level in the South of Johannesburg, and appealed to the public to share their skills, even those deemed insignificant, with those who lacked them.

“Even if you have got knowledge on how to make atchaar, (share it). Don’t let the Qabrastaan be wealthy with knowledge. Leave it behind.”

This year’s roll of honour unveiled at the prestigious ceremony also included 5 other Muslim recipients. Media honcho Yusuf Abramjee of Crime Line, Dr Sayed Mohamed Ridwan Mia, Essop Essak Jassat, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, and the late Amina Desai were all honoured at Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House on Saturday.


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