After 11 years behind the wheel of his Jammie Shuttle, Nazeem Mobarah is one of the many contract staff that have recently become permanent staff members at UCT.
Nazeem was born in District Six and later moved to Mannenberg in the Cape Flats with his family where he did his schooling.
“When I left high school, I didn't get to finish studying because my mom passed away and it was a bit difficult for my family.”
He then enrolled for a law course in Athlone, but could only finish his first semester because of circumstances at the time.
As the only boy among six siblings, he had to work to help his father put his sisters through school.
“Now I have my own family and I'm settled, I can think of studying again. I've been a shop steward and done other things in life, so I know I'm a people's person,” says Nazeem.
He describes his years at UCT as fruitful, but also challenging.
Nazeem spent 20 years working at Golden Arrow as a bus driver. But he felt that he needed a change, so he left the company.
“My ex-manager … asked what I was doing with my life. I told him I had been at home for about two weeks, and he told me to stop lazing around and apply at UCT,” says Nazeem.
He got the contract and began working as a Jammie Shuttle driver in 2005.
“That was still the teething period. We were still working on our shifts and trying to mould the transport service that we have now,” he says.
Nazeem says that being on contract for all those years caused uncertainty.
“We were unsure of where we were going or if we would still have work. We were still hanging then. But now we feel more secure,” he says with a beaming smile.
An infectious smile
As he pulls closer to the bus stop, the students recognise him and start smiling and laughing. One goes as far as hugging him as they get on the bus.
“You just saw how students perform when they see me,” chuckles Nazeem.
The students at the Liesbeeck Gardens Residence call him 'The Big Man' while at Tugwell he's just called 'The Man'. When he is at North Stop on upper campus, he tells the joke which led to him being called 'The Chocolate Man'.
“When anybody asks me, 'Do you go to Tugwell?' I usually say, 'I will if only you have chocolates.' So girls started calling me 'The Chocolate Man',” he laughs.
“I always go that extra mile. I do it for the students and it makes me really happy knowing that I put a smile on someone's face.”
A wealth of knowledge
Nazeem also spent five years doing campus tours from Welgelegen to various spots around the university. He worked closely with Colleen Jeftha from the Communication and Marketing Department, and she speaks fondly of him.
She says, “I haven't been fortunate enough to always get him this year, but he's really a pleasure to do tours with. He knows the script and he is very engaging and extremely friendly.”
His favourite campus tour was with a group of staff members from Bremner.
“It was the funniest thing ever … They just know Bremner and they don't know what other campuses look like. There were people who had been here for 10 to 15 years and they were saying, 'I don't even know what North Stop looks like.' It was fun because … I had an opportunity to show them around.”
Nazeem still remembers the Summer House before it was renovated.
“It's always stuck in my head. What it actually looked like before and what it looks like now with the stairs. UCT and the changes that have come is very interesting.”
It's all about team work
“Previously we had nothing – we just had a provident fund. But now at UCT we have a lot and we're glad about that. We have something to fall back on,” he says.
“There are a few nitty gritty things we need to clarify at Bremner, but they have an open door policy and are happy to help us.”
He adds that the benefits they now receive make him feel comfortable and secure.
“I think now everyone will focus on going all the way and giving their best. It's all about team work,” says Nazeem. “Everybody is overwhelmed and loves the idea of officially being in the institution.”
For the love of music
Nazeem is a keen singer who has toured Europe, performing love ballads with a group of fellow singers.
“During the apartheid era we couldn't get gigs on 'white stages', but about 25 to 30 years ago a group of us – about 20 guys – went to Spain and Holland and we had a fantastic time,” he explains.
He is also the resident DJ at The Capetonian Hotel and is looking forward to gigging from September onwards when things get busy again.
“I'm into sound and karaoke. I wouldn't say I'm a DJ, but everyone calls me one,” says Nazeem.
Story Chido Mbambe. Photo Kate-Lyn Moore.
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