In memory

Bonita Bennet, Director of District Six Museum

A legend is laid to rest: remembering Moegammat “Kafunta” Benjamin.

Did Mr Benjamin have a hotline to the Voice of the Cape radio station? That is the certainly the word on the street.

While others battled to get through to the VOC switchboard especially when a hot topic was being debated, his distinctive voice, would be sounding forth on the airwaves. Others got the engaged signal. Apparently it was the luck of the draw and there was no favouritism to grant him special airtime status.

Moegammat Benjamin, grandson of Motjie Beira, spoke with pride of his humble but empowering upbringing. He told of his grandmother’s exemplary work ethic which enabled her to support her family, and the ways in which she influenced him and his approach to life.

He made no secret about his limited access to school education, and was a living testimony of the possibilities and power of non-formal education.

Just as Motjie Beira was an influencer in his life, he went on to become the same to others in his lifetime. Moegammat was one of those people who made you believe that you had always known him.

I first met him when I was heading the District Six Museum archive about 12 or 13 years ago. It was in the context of an oral history project that he was part of.

The exact details evade me now, but what I remember clearly was that very soon after our first meeting he declared that we were connected because we had both lived in Bonteheuwel, and most importantly, because we had both been nicknamed Kafunta. He earned the name because of his singing and performance prowess and his love for the music of Kafunta; I earned it because apparently my unbrushed hair when it was freshly washed as a child, resembled the profile image on the cover of the Kafunta album.

It was before the days of the blow-dry and oil treatments. For Moegammat, that sealed the deal between our connection, and it was my great pleasure to provide him with a copy of the Kafunta CD. (the singer referred to as Kafunta was actually named Patricia “PP” Arnold, but many Capetonians called her “Kafunta” because of her album by that name that had gained iconic status in the townships of the city.)

Moegammat lived life on his own terms. He was passionate, opinionated and inquisitive, and so deeply committed to the District Six cause.

Committed to fighting for its memory and story to be told, and for people to return to their beloved District Six.

It was devastating for his fellow District Sixers to have been present when he collapsed and struggled through his last moments with the help and support of a wonderful team of paramedics.

We were all distraught. But it was wonderful to experience the way in which the group held each other; remained present even through their grief, and gradually the space transformed into a quiet celebration of Moegammat when it finally became known that he had breathed his last. It was so hard to think of him dying right there where he had enacted so much of his recent life, but several Seven Steps elders reminded us that he died in a place which gave him so much happiness and joy, surrounded by friends who had become like extended family to him.

Who can imagine the District Six Museum without Moegammat Benjamin? I cannot think of having a day without him waltzing in to tell me how to do my job, or giving my colleagues advice that they did not know they needed. Or the early morning radio waves without his calls?

At first, it did not feel good to be connected to the place where he died. But in thinking about it, it was an honour to have been the substitute for the District Six home that he yearned for but which never materialised in his lifetime.

He died in District Six. Moegammat Benjamin: storyteller, voorloper of the Klopse, supreme netball player and “dancing in drag” lover: who will fill this gap that you have left?

Museum visitors including school children and teachers have been known to hang onto your words.

We will tap into your legacy and quote you for many years to come. You have left your mark and will be remembered with love and laughter. Rest in peace and power, District Six warrior.