Bhadra Jaga (left) & his son Roshan
Bhadra Jaga makes himself comfortable in the middle of his shop in 61 Wale Street, Bo-Kaap, Cape Town. Despite the rain outside, it’s nice and warm inside the shop and smells of leather. He’s preparing to tell his story. He’s a gentle man with a peaceful air about him. At the age of nearly 80 years old, he greets people that come into his shop with a small bow of the head and a gentle ‘Namaste.’
“This story brings a tear” he warns, pulling a crisp white handkerchief from his pocket in preparation. “When I think about what they went through, brave men…very brave men!”
In the late 1890’s, Jaga Jiven, Bhadra’s grandfather left his wife and son in their small village Bodali in Gujarat, India and came to South Africa, in search of a better life. He spoke no English. He also knew a family in Cape Town, who gave him a room above their business in 59 Wale Street. When the family Mr. Jivan was lodging with decided to return to India, they asked him to take over their business. He took the three month journey home by boat to fetch his wife Jeevi and son Kasan and bring them back to a new life in South Africa.
For more than 100 years, 59, 61 & 63 Wale Street has been home to Rocksole and the family of Jaga Jivan. When he returned to India to retire in the village of his ancestors, his eldest son, Kasan, Bhadra’s father, continued the business.
Kasan’s family and the business were both growing and before long, 59 Wale Street was too small. As the neighbouring houses went on sale, he bought them. “He bought number 59, 61 and 63 for the grand total of R10 000”
In the early 1950’s Bhadra left school and joined his father in the business. The Apartheid government created the ‘Group Areas Act’ and their part of Wale Street was declared a “White” area. “We were told that we needed to leave. We’d have to go to where the Indians lived, in Rylands Estate, Athlone. We ignored this and carried on. We had and still have a wonderful relationship with the people in the area.”
But the pressure began to mount and within a year, even though the business stayed, the growing families who lived above the shop, relocated to Rylands Estate. They had to travel long distances from there to keep the business going.
At this point in the tale, Bhadra pauses. He’s maintained his gentle voice but he occassionally wipes his eyes with his handkerchief.
But by the 1980’s, the family had enough of the long commute and using a friend of his, built a house for Bhadra and his family on the slopes of Signal Hill (BoKaap). “My friend had the correct doucuments for the area, so he was the legal owner but it was our house.” They are living there for over 32 years.
Rocksole now consists of two shops. One selling new shoes and the other repairing shoes. Bhadra and his son Roshan currently run the new side of the business. Each generation of Bhadra’s family has the freedom to choose where they want to take their lives. He speaks proudly of a daughter who is an attorney (conveyensor) and a son who is a medical orthodist and prosthetist. His daughter-in-laws, one who works at Santam and the other at Old Mutual. His granddaughter following in her mother’s footsteps (doing 2nd year law) and a grandson in Grade R. His loving wife looks after the day-to-day challenges.
“Life is what you make of it,” says Bhadra. “We’ve always helped each other, always got involved with the community in any way we could and even though we won’t be here forever, we want to leave something for future generations…just like my grandfather did.”
“Always” he says, “An honest living is the best living!”