In this week’s #SliceOfGasant, Gasant Abarder reflects on a little-known visionary who shaped and moved a group of young men to do better in the Woodstock of the 90s – with a football club that presented a break for their mentor, yet opened a world of possibilities for them.

Abarder, who recently launched his book, Hack with a Grenade, is among the country’s most influential media voices. Catch his weekly column here, exclusive to Cape {town} Etc.

A Muslim, Christian and Jew walk into a cemetery. This is not the start of a joke. It is the story of how one remarkable life influenced countless others – even from the grave.

A band of misfits on a stormy Sunday morning, paying tributes and offering prayers in our own way in a tiny interfaith service at the Muslim burial grounds that run from Walter Sisulu Avenue to the Main Road in Observatory in Cape Town.

Our prayer were for Faiez Dollie. We were divided only by the names of our respective creators, but united by our friendship and love for Faiez. Even in death, he was leading us.

The relentless rains make the earth not muddy, but almost clay-like. This sludge grips the soles of our shoes as if to keep us anchored in the moment. The rain falls almost rhythmically, as if to ease our troubled souls from the pain of death.

Who was this man who had such a profound effect on us? Many in the most vulnerable areas of Cape Town will know him for his activism, even though he went about it in a selfless, quiet way. We knew him as the founder of our football club, Woodstock Wanderers, where he could let his hair down to emulate his hero Alan Shearer on the pitch.

The football was just Faiez’s device to show us we could shoot the lights out. Faiez of 1996, who I met when I was then just 17, was like that … always ten steps ahead. Forget this soft-boiled, Biscuit Mill, hipster paradise that is present day Woodstock. In these tough streets in the 90s, there were two choices: death or prison. Faiez – mentor, friend and leader – showed us the road less travelled.

Guns were never far away and the cops were always wanting to search you in the streets without cause as a form of provocation.

Faiez made our group of around 20 or so young men, who formed the core of Woodstock Wanderers, want to choose the high road. Some of us got there eventually, taking some detours along the way. Two of us, our dear brothers Small Ali and Haroon Khan, did die – but through illness. Our dear brother Faiez succumbed to cancer.

Faiez bought us our first kit, registered us for a football league, bought us meals, created work opportunities and always had a word of encouragement. He was among the first in Cape Town to train Microsoft certified software engineers and sent a whole generation of IT hotshots into the corporate world. He visited me during my year-long stint in Joburg during my internship as a journalist when I was 19. I’ll never forget that visit while I was lonely and homesick.

Faiez fought even when death came knocking. When doctors gave him six months, he took five years, never stopping to complain or to ask for help. He continued his activism and reminded us of our brotherhood, which most of us had forgotten.

Elsewhere, years before his diagnosis, Faiez’s spirit and influence extended far and beyond Woodstock to the most vulnerable people of our city. Those who knew him knew. He devoted his time to arrange bursary opportunities for deserving university Mitchells Plain students who wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to study. He had many success stories there. But few knew about it because Faiez was unassuming and modest.

As we stood there in the rain, a circle of misfits in front of his fresh grave at the Muslim burial site, we wanted to linger. The cocktail of rainwater and clay sucked our feet to the concrete and encouraged us to hang around. After a few prayers and words appealing to our creator of different names – Jesus, Allah and Yahweh – to turn Faiez’s good deeds into favours in the life after death, we parted ways, resolving to make this a regular thing.

Here lies our leader, a humble man who showed us the way and wanted us to do better. There was nothing in it for him. But as we left we knew that we would forever be bound to a path to carry forward this legacy. That is what he would have wanted. That is what he lived for. That is how he passed.

Your work in this world is done. Rest well, dear friend.

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Pictures: Supplied

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