Abdul Aziz Soofie next to a replica model of the Habibia Soofie Saheb mosque in Riverside, Durban North. Sibonelo Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - Seventy-year-old Abdul Aziz Soofie will never forget when bulldozers and men with hammers demolished part of the Habibia Soofie Saheb - Riverside Mosque 50 years ago because of the Group Areas Act.

Soofie’s memories and a collection of artefacts, old newspaper clippings and replica models of how the mosque looked will form part of an exhibition at the Kenville Mosque from Monday to commemorate 50 years since a portion of the land was expropriated.

The mosque was established in 1895 by Sha Goolam Muhammed Soofie, known affectionately as Soofie Saheb. It served the community of Riverside and the local Muslim community of Durban. In addition, it had an Islamic educational school, cemetery, orphanage and free clinic.

Because of the Group Areas Act, parts of the mosque were destroyed and people were moved from Durban North to Chatsworth. The Soofie family moved to Kenville on October 15, 1968. Here they established another mosque.

Born in 1948, Soofie was 20 when his family packed up all their belongings and moved out. He still remembers turning around to catch a glimpse of the empty mosque.

Soofie said the family had not given up hope. Each time they returned to conduct prayers, he said they saw men with hammers and bulldozers tearing apart the buildings.

“For at least two years, very few people attended the prayer sessions and auspicious occasions on the Islamic calendar. We travelled between the mosque and Kenville to continue with the five daily prayers, on most occasions even with seven people. The mosque could accommodate 200.”

As time went on, the mosque once again regained its prestige, and people returned. During this period, it underwent three major extensions and renovations between 1980 and 1999.

“I recall when they used dynamite to bring down the entrance columns on the property. The demolishers warned us not to come onto the property because they were not liable for any injuries,” he said.

“At a place called Lower Bridge we cut a new entrance so that we could get into the mosque. It became a gravel road. We used hoes and spades to dig up the path. We had quite a big family consisting of orphans, my uncle, brothers and sisters.

“The government wanted to exhume the bodies in the cemetery, but we put up a fight. The cemetery was closed from 1968 to 1995,” Soofie recalled.

The Mazaar Shareef, which means “tomb of the saint”, was renovated in 1987. One of the other renovations included the gateway to knowledge - which hosts the Soofie Academy and Islamic school and was built in 2014.

Shaheed Yunis, an exhibition curator, said three models of the buildings were created, which depicted various stages of how the site once looked.

“The models depict the rise, fall and resurrection of the mosque since 1895. We have gathered newspaper clippings and photographs to educate people about the history of the Soofie mosque,” he said.

Daily News