Years ago, I pondered the story behind a mysterious memorial that sat at the University of Cape Town for many years. It was a gravestone, or memorial, of a woman called Haji Ayesha Teladia – who died in 1981 (at the age of 56 years old).
The stone sat on Library Road, in a sand patch just outside the Leslie Commerce building. While studying there, and later working on campus, I was always intrigued by it.
Who was Ayesha Teladia? And surely she was not buried there…so why was the stone there? What was her link to UCT?
My early research (i.e. Shaykh Google) referred me to one or more (seemingly) currently-living person/people of the same name, but this obviously wasn’t the Ayesha in question…she had been dead for decades already.
In 2015, I posted it on Facebook and gathered a lot more info from family members and those who seem to have known her:
- She’s not buried at UCT. She is buried in a proper graveyard. This stone – maybe a replica of the one at her grave – has been at UCT since the 1980s.
- She was extremely active in fighting for equality in education with a vital focus on Islamic Education.
- She had an extraordinary and exceptional story of philanthropy and service to the Muslim community.
- In 1980, she converted the top floor of her house in Lotus River, Grassy Park to a mosque – because there was a need for that in the area at the time.
Those were the facts established in that round of discussion. They sketch out that she must have been an amazing person, and definitely a story that could inspire others.
I was supposed to be put in contact with an elder who knew her life story, but that fell through – so I never learned anything more at the time.
There were a number of other leads, too, but I didn’t have the time to speak to everyone, and I felt that it would be far better in the hands of proper journalists who could piece together an awesome story from all the info and the first hand sources. Two Muslim media organisations indicated that they would do a story on this, but nothing ever materialised from that, unfortunately.
The stone was removed from campus around 2013 or 2015, so any trace of her memory no longer remains there.
The whole case remained dormant for the last few years, but I was recently reminded of this mystery and decided to make some further enquiries at the university. After contacting both current and retired staff members from a range of relevant departments, still no information emerged about her link to UCT.
To be honest, I think with some dedicated research, the mystery probably could be solved. But I’m really in no position to go to great lengths for that.
I leave it as a challenge for any local journalists – whether Muslim or not – who are looking for an intriguing legacy story from the Cape Muslim community.
Until that happens, the mystery remains…