Honourable and outstanding human beings like lawyer and historian Hassim Seedat are few and far between these days.
That’s probably because not many are imbued with the same searching honesty and dignified humility that followed him like a shadow all through his 88 years.
Having worked closely with him as a journalist in the early years of my career, I was proud to have attended his memorial at Durban’s Orient Hall on Tuesday when speaker after speaker rose to share recollections and personal anecdotes about this remarkable character.
It’s hard to put Hassim in a box - he was a man of multiple talents and had several burning passions in his colourful and eventful career.
Uppermost was his unrelenting search for his purpose in life.
In his early years, the only professions young people of Indian extraction could follow were teaching, medicine and law. Hassim experimented with all three but eventually decided law was what fascinated him.
As a committed anti-apartheid campaigner, he played a pivotal role in the affairs of the Natal Indian Congress and was part of the delegation that held discussions with the then banned ANC in Lusaka in 1988.
His second consuming passion was his love for the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and was known to have the most extensive collection anywhere in the world of books and memorabilia on Gandhi’s 21 years in South Africa.
Oh, and let’s not forget his abiding love of gardening and his prized collection of rare cycads.
But his greatest passion of all was, without doubt, his love for his wife Farreda and his family.
To detail Hassim’s impressive biography would probably embarrass him, so let’s remember him by some brief cameos recalled by his colleagues at Tuesday’s memorial.
Like actor Rajesh Gopie’s recollection of how Hassim’s name had been inadvertently omitted from the guest list of a glittering launch of a Gandhi film Hassim had personally researched and helped produce. Hassim was unfazed by the honest mistake, taking it all in his stride.
Or retired judge Thumba Pillay’s recollection of visiting the stinking room with a bucket toilet at Isipingo Beach police cells where Hassim was held in solitary confine for 120 days in the 1960s: “The stench lingers whenever I recall the event. He looked lost and forlorn.”
And former presidential spokesperson, Mac Maharaj recalling the day he almost slapped Hassim when they were sharing digs in London with other young fellow freedom fighters.
Mac had sought Hassim’s support in an argument, but when greeted by stoic silence, he reached out to clout his friend, not realising Hassim was observing his self-imposed period of silence on that day.
Mac stopped and withdrew his arm, consumed by shame - and in the process, learnt his greatest lesson in anger management.
Such blind anger was futile because Hassim would simply have turned the other cheek - like his revered mentor Gandhi would have.