national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, February 16, 2014


A South African memoir of love, courage and journeys to a better place, Mohamed (Mac) Carim’s Coolie Come Out and Fight is simultaneously a family memoir and a slice of South African history. It offers that rare thing: a beleaguered community in turbulent times seen through a young couple’s struggle for self-realisation and fulfillment.

It’s about the particular hurdles that face an Indian/Coloured family in their search to find a more dignified space in which to live, grow and thrive. Starting with the grandfathers − the Indian deck-passenger who reaches Cape Town in 1914, sells fruit off a street handcart and ten years later establishes a silk bazaar. And the illegitimate child of a daughter of the Italian House of Orsini, born in secrecy, who was sent to a convent in Cape Town and raised as a foster son of a coloured fishing family.

Through the journeys of three generations Carim’s story offers insights into aspects of the lives of ordinary people during the transition years from colonialism to apartheid. The style is engaging, the dialogue lucid and authentic; rewarding the reader with vivid action and imagery. Its title Coolie, Come Out and Fight! is devastatingly honest and redolent of South Africa in the 1950s and 60s.

Mac Carim’s emotional ties to the volatile streets of Johannesburg haven’t faded in 70 years, just as his love affair with his wife Hajoo hasn’t cooled in 55 years. This memoir is a return to those streets and times.

Born in Cape Town in 1936, ‘deported’ to the Transvaal with his parents when he was two, Mac grew up in the unpredictable neighbourhoods of Malay Camp, Troyeville, Johannesburg’s Asiatic Bazaar in the city centre and Fordsburg. The couple left South Africa in March 1961, some three years after their marriage, with toddler Xavier in tow. Son Zane was born in Kano, Nigeria in 1964. Their journey spanned 35 years and four continents, while Mac worked on assignments in 33 countries.

During all this time his heart remained in South Africa and his spirit walked Jo’burg’s ghetto streets and avenues. After 19 years of stability in Canada, this family was attracted back home in 1996 by the promise of Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation. Published by Porcupine Press, it retails at R195.