Mohammed Cassim Bassa the estate agent and community leader was born on 11 August 1925 in India. He was the eighth of nine children of Mohammed Bassa, a businessman, and his wife Fathima. Bassa's father came to South Africa with his family in 1927. Bassa was schooled in Durban and in 1944 matriculated through the prestigious Sastri College. Though his father encouraged him to train as a medical doctor, Bassa preferred to work as a research assistant in the Department of Economics at the University of Natal. Research on the economic circumstances of Indians in Natal awakened Bassa's interest in the history of Indian immigrants in South Africa and their struggle against racial discrimination. He became involved in political activities and joined the Natal Indian Congress in 1948.
Bassa's involvement in community work came very much by accident. He was requested by the Natal Indian Blind Society to collect and replace collection boxes in public places like factories and shops. His appointment as honorary secretary of the society followed in 1953. As community leader Bassa decided to restrain his personal feelings as a strong proponent of the movements against racism, and rather work within the political system of the day for the benefit of the larger community. In doing so, Bassa was often subjected to humiliation for being black.
He was either not allowed to attend welfare meetings or was given observer status with not only no vote but no voice either. He continued to make representations in person, if allowed, or conveyed his views to a white colleague who would then represent his case.
Though Bassa was involved in voluntary welfare work with all disabled people, his greatest impact was among the visually and hearing impaired. As president of the Natal Indian Blind and Deaf Society from 1966 until his death, Bassa was responsible for the expansion of the workshop for the Indian blind, the introduction of professional social work services and other related services to blind and deaf persons in Natal. He constantly campaigned at every level for a better dispensation with regard to pensions and grants for blind and deaf persons and for better subsidies for the workshops.
He was chairperson of the boards of management of the following statesubsidised schools: New Horizon School for the Blind, Durban School for the Indian Deaf and the V.N. Naik School for the Deaf. He served as an invited member on the Management Board of the Spes Nova School for Cerebral Palsied Children. When the Council for the Advancement of Special Education in South Africa was formed to represent all Indian special schools and training centres, Bassa was elected the first chairperson””a position he held until his death.
Bassa was also involved in mainstream education and was grantee of the Orient Primary and Secondary Schools and the Anjuman Islam Primary School. Here again he was called upon to represent the Indian community in making representations for the improvement of community facilities. This he did successfully. At the time of his death he was also secretary of the Indian Centenary Scholarship Trust and joint secretary of the Orient Islamic Educational Institute.
At national level Bassa was a member of the executive committees of the South African National Council for the Blind and the South African National Council for the Deaf. These national bodies elected him chairperson for both the -Division for Indian Blind and the Division for Indian Deaf. He served on several special committees in both the work of the blind and the deaf, as well as with the South African Welfare Council to which he was appointed by the Minister of Health and Welfare in terms of the National Welfare Act. He was a member of the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness.
Bassa attended three international assemblies as South African delegate: the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind in New Delhi, 1969, and in Sao Paulo in 1974, and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness in Oxford, 1978.
He was a keen sportsman and played a leading role in promoting sport. He excelled in cricket and table tennis and led a table tennis team to play in Germany in 1957. Bassa was elected president of the South African Table Tennis Board which was affiliated to the international body. His condemnation of apartheid in sport and activities in the South African Council of Sport (SACOS) led to the government withdrawing his passport for many years. Bassa received several awards for his services: the J.N. Reddy Community Award in 1975; a citation from the Durban City Council in 1977; and the R.W. Bowen Medal with citation from the South African Council for the Blind in 1979.
Apart from his volunteer work he was a successful estate agent.
Bassa was married to Khatija (nee Paruk). Three children were born of this marriage””two daughters and a son. He died in his sleep in a hotel in Johannesburg where he was attending a meeting of the South African National Council for the Deaf.