Anver Alibhai

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Anver Alibhai
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Born in

In 1952 the 2 older sons of Mohamedali, Shokat aged 19 and Anver aged 17 were recruited by their maternal uncle Taki Rawji to join the rapidly expanding business, Rawji Fils. Shokat left Darand went to the head office in Stanleyville; Anver was sent to the Kindu branch. During that year in Kindu, Anver though still only a teenager, managed to expand the business quite significantly. Recognising his own capability he was no longer satisfied with a salary and he successfully negotiated a 30-70% partnership for his family in the Kindu Branch.

Hassan, the 3rd brother continued his studies at the Indian Central School in Dar till 1957 after which he joined Bapa and Anver in the Kindu branch. He stayed on here till the rebellion in 1964 and after a bad attack of jaundice he went to Leopoldville to recuperate. Together these 3 young Alibhai brothers had become very active and productive, more than proving their worth and it was now appropriate to push for an Alibhai partnership in the entire Rawji enterprise. A deal was eventually agreed and they were given a 30% share of all Rawji businesses in the Congo.

Expansion


Between 1953 and 1960 many traders and businessmen used to travel by plane (Sabena), from Stanleyville to Leopoldville to purchase goods and to conductall manner ofbusiness. The big enterprises like Nogueira and Sedec were established in Leo and the smaller shopkeepers came here to buy goods for theirlocal shops. The larger business houses imported their own goods into Matadi. During these troubled times goods remained stockpiled in warehouses and it was a good time for traders to buy them cheaply.

Leopoldville was an expensive city so people did not stay there longer than required. On the other hand Brazzaville in French Congo across the river was much more affordable and in the evenings people crossed over in boats to enjoy all the pleasures of Paris available a short distance away, across the river. Leopoldville Taki moved between Leopoldville, Stanleyville, Europe and the Far East. In 1963 he settled his family in Hyderabad in Pakistan having acquired a partnership in The Al Murtaza Spinning Mills in Hyderabad with The Hajis. By this time he had entrusted the affairs in the Congo to Shokat and Anver.

In 1960, a week after Independence there had been a mutiny of the Force Publique, and brutal attacks on the Europeans brought about an exodus of most of the Belgians and Government Officers and the UN had to send a peace keeping force into The Congo to maintain lawand order. Atthis time, Anver aged just 26, moved to Leopoldville to be close to the nerve centre of Trade and Administration.

Since there were no family homes Anver stayed at the Regina Hotel situated in the centre. The Hotel still had an automated telephone system which provided a news service and displayed numbers to ring if an ambulance was required-one for Europeans and another for the Congolese.

Leopoldville was still an impressive city with its spacious central boulevard, elegant shops and offices and comfortable hotels. It is remembered that 'one could still eat a very good fillet steak sitting in the warm open air on the boulevard at a restaurant that had a small but accomplished orchestra playingAmericanjazz music. Anver first took up an office for Rawji Fils on the ground floor of the Forescom Building in the city centre. He employed staffto run the office and to handle the passage of goods arriving from Japan and Europe and America into the nearby port of Matadi; from here they were put on the train to Leopoldville, and thence transported by river- boats to Stanleyville and Kindu. Till now these matters were being handled by Belgian agents.

As in Kindu, he quickly made friends with many Belgians and sought out and cultivated a steadily growing number of influential Africans and politicians. His antennae and skill for sensing business opportunities were always well tuned (as I was to experience frequentlyin our short married life), and very soon he became a familiar player in thevibrantlychanginglifeofthiscity.

Obtaining licenses for the importation of goods was now becoming a problem. During Belgian times there was no shortage of foreign exchange, and asTaki used to say 'they could import anything from a pin to an elephant.' But after independence the country foreign currency reserve dwindled and soon businesses had to make their own arrangements; Leopoldville was now strategic to obtaining new licenses,quotas, etc.

The company soon rented space for a wholesale shop and showrooms in N'Dokolo Building, with office space on the mezzanine. Then in 1963 Rawji Fils acquired their first small industry, 'Alukivu', an aluminium pressing plant.

Alukivu

Alukivu produced aluminium cooking utensils bya pressing process; these were made for sale to the local population. The factory was located in Bukavu with a branch in Shagungu in Burundi. After independence the Shagungu branch was closed and the Bukavu facility was moved to Stanleyville/Kisangani.

Another factory was set up in Leopoldville in the area of Limete, on the way to the airport; this was managed by Sherali Fazal, when he came to live here in 1965 with his family.The plot in Limete had been purchased around 1962 and had the remnants ofa car-repairgarage and someshedson the site. During the month of Moharrum, the Shia Community, part of the UN Peace-Keeping Force, approached Anver to help them find a location to hold their majlises. They gladly accepted his offer of the space at Limete, and in later years this became the Community Mosque, lovingly tended by Babybai, Sherali's wife and Anver'ssister.

The small community of about 100 members met here for majlises on Thursdayevenings and during the month of Ramzan for Koran Khwanis, and Babybai always prepared the Fateha. Several years later as the population of Shias grew, a proper mosque was built closer to town with the support ofother Shia communities, and a resident mohalvi wasinstalled.

In 1964 other family members including Fidahussain, Taki and Shokat, escaping from the uprisings in Eastern Congo, arrived in Leopoldville. The rebellion in the interior was prolonged and violent, and all Asian families had to flee Kindu and Stanleyville.

The 1964 Rebellion- 110 Days in Stanleyville

Several of our family members remained in Stanleyville despite the warning signs. Many women and children had been flown out to Dar-es-Salaam a few days earlier in a plane chartered by the Hajis and Rawjis.

When the Government forces, stationed beneath the Nasser Building, (not far from Rawji Fils and Ebrahim Haji Freres) opened fire on the rebels, our families were trapped in their apartments. They had all gathered together in one of the apartments for solidarity and lay flat on the floor as bullets whizzed in through the shattering windows. They later counted 150 bullet holes in the walls! Surviving mostly on coke and bread for three days, they sometimes managed to cook a pot of rice when there was a lull in the shooting.

The Hajis were in a similar plight in their apartments further down the road. Unfortunately, one of the young men, Anwar Haji rose up to get something out of the fridge and was fatally wounded by a stray bullet in the stomach.

Almost 3 days later when the news got to the Rawjis and other families clustered together in their apartment building 5 minutes away, they decided to brave it across to the Hajis. Clutching white flags they emerged from the building, carrying the newborn Murtaza Rawji and other small children, edging their way slowly forward, around the hundreds of corpses of butchered Belgian males lying strewn on the roads. Belgian women and children had been taken as hostages. Accosted on the way by a mad Congolese, they were rescued from another tragedy by a military general who recognized Pyarali Rawji, and led the group to safety. It took 10 days for the news to reach Karachi. There was almost no contact with the outside for 110 days.

The town was running out of food and other supplies, and prices of whatever remained escalated sharply. The family survived on sardines and corned beef cans from the shop, and waited for some supplies to be smuggled in from Hassan Alibhaiwhowasin Kindu.

Finally the Belgian paratroopers arrived and took charge of the airport. People slept at the airport for two days till Red Cross planes flew them out to Leopoldville -- Belgians first, then women and childrenand thentheothers. Hassan went to Karachi in 1964, and a few months later married Nurjahan, the daughter of Fidahussain Haji; they then came to live in Leopoldville with Shokat and his wife Nazira in a rented home in Djelo Binza.

Anver also left the Regina and came to stay with them; he slept on the safari couch in the living room! A year later, after their daughter Farhana was born, Hassan and Nurjahan moved to Stanleyville. There they lived through the nightmare of the '67 rebellion. Homes were raided. The men were lined up and led away. The women were given a few minutes to pack essentials before they were also marshalled off, carrying their babies. As fatigue set in they dropped their possessions one by one, finally only holding on to baby foodsand passports. There was no news ofthe men.

Only later they learned that the men had been lined up before a firing squad!! They were mercifully rescued by the timely arrival of the UN troops, and the wives finally met up with them at the airport just as they were being airlifted with the children, bound for the capital Beltexco

In the same year, 1967 Rawji Fils made a big breakthrough with the acquisition of a 44-year old Belgian Trading Company, Beltexco. At the time Beltexco comprised of a textile factory at its headquarters in Ghent in Belgium, with outlets in Matadi, Boma, Leopoldville, Bumba, Kindu and Stanleyville. The enterprise was almost defunct, but it had a good reputation for hardware and textiles.The Swiss owners wanted to sell and move out of the Congo.

Anver picked up this vital information through the all-important grapevine and Rawji Fils snapped up this opportunity to expand. Along with the offices and showrooms near the Central Post Office in Leopoldville came a small, 2-storeyed apartment block in the same compound with godowns situated towards the back of the property. A further large block of 1-storey apartments, warehouses and a bungalow with large garden were located in the Avenue Renkin, nearby. 'Rawji Fils' now adopted the name Beltexco. Portugese and local personnel were retained in the branches at Boma and Matadi; Hassan looked after Kisangani and Bashir Popat Rawji managed Kindu. Until this time Rawji Fils had offices, shops and warehousesonlyin Kisangani, Kindu and Kinshasa.

Sogalkin

In 1970 Sogalkin, a plant for the production of galvanized sheets and roofing for local markets was completed and inaugurated in Kinshasa---it was an extensive enterprise undertaken with Japanese collaboration.

People would have stayed on in Kindu happily, but rebellions swept the area once again in 1974 forcing many Europeans and Asians to leave, and conditions once again deteriorated very rapidly. Anver remained with the Ebrahim Haji Freres in Kindu till the branch closed down in1972. He then started his own shop and after it was nationalized a year later, he left Kindu to work with the Rawjis in their Beltexco branch in the portcityof Matadi till 1978.

In March 1968, a deep, personal loss marred the tremendous euphoria of the previous year. Naseem, the 21 year-old sister of the Alibhais passed away suddenly during a visit to Kinshasa, succumbing to a sudden violent attack of asthma. Anver, very affected by her demise, was persuaded to take a year off to travel. In Bombay he met and married Zia Rahimtoola in December 1968.

In 1971 Anver was the first Asian to be decorated with one of the country's highest awards, 'The Leopard' in recognition for the services he personally, and the family as a whole, had delivered to the country for decades

Yusuf and Masum had migrated to Canada with their families in 1974 after nationalization of foreign businesses in the Congo. Yusuf returned from Canada in 1977 to re-join the Hajis. The Hajis had recently got back some of their properties and shops completely devoid of goods, and needing to be re-stocked. He stayed with them till 1981. Kaniz and the brothers re-joined their families in Canada and are at present living in Montreal.