Community ‘help desk’ closes its doors

Tahir Levy at the Al Gidmah office in Woodstock.

Former District Six resident Tahir Levy has been a guardian angel to many for over 50 years.

Mr Levy, 84, founded Al Gidmah, which means to serve, at a time when his community was being crushed by the apartheid state. It’s travelled a long distance since, offering help to many, under the slogan, “No name, no fame, no monetary gain”.

At the end of June, that journey will come to an end and Al Gidmah will close.

After being forced out of District Six under apartheid, Mr Levy started Al Gidmah in his home in Russell Street, Walmer Estate, with the help of co-founders, the late Father Basil van Rensburg of the Holy Cross Church, and activist Naz Ebrahim.

Later it moved to a small office in Argyle Street, Woodstock, and that’s where it stayed for the past 30 years, helping people from all over the Cape Flats with pensions, child grants, drug addiction, evictions, housing, legal matters, religious affairs, land claims and more.

“When I lived in District Six, I saw a lot of suffering, and I used to help people, making phone calls. So I thought let’s make it one night on a week on Wednesdays where people could meet to work through problems,” he said.

His son, Moneeb Levy, recalled how the passage of their home would be full of people on Wednesday nights.

“People came with divorce cases, social grants, social work and abuse cases,” he said.

What kept Mr Levy going was that his own experiences allowed him to empathise with those he helped.

He was a District Six claimant from the 1996 claimant list and received restitution that made it possible for his son, Labeeb Levy, to move into a flat.

Mr Levy helped former residents of District Six with their claim forms through the District
Six Trust, and he still assisted people with their claims up until last year.

He estimates his organisation helped around 500 people with claims, though he said only a small percentage of early claimants got restitution.

“There are still a few people waiting for outstanding claims,” he said.

It saddens him that 23 years since the 1996 claimants lodged their claims, there are still people waiting for restitution.

Seemingly untouched by the digital age, Mr Levy still works with his brother, Gasant Levy, using an old system of notebooks, in which names are recorded alphabetically along with the dates and reasons for people visiting the office.

They do not use any computers.

Mr Levy said that even though the journey is coming to an end, he still has not decided what he will do once the office is closed.

His son, Moneeb says he can’t believe the day is coming when
his father will be finished with work.

“He is someone who can’t sit still, if people should call him, he won’t turn people away,” he says.

Anyone wanting to contact Mr Levy can call 021 447 6533.