Zuleika (Zulei) Sarojini Christopher, the eldest daughter of Advocate Albert Christopher and Ghadija Gool, was born in 1924 in Greenwood Park, Durban, where she also grew up. Advocate Albert Christopher, a member of the moderate grouping of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), had been involved in politics during Gandhi’s stay in South Africa and took a particular interest in the politics of colonial born Indians. Ghadija Gool was imprisoned as a passive resister in 1946 and served the Durban Indian Child Welfare Society for many decades.
Zuleika matriculated at the Durban Indian Girls’ High School, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal). She attended Fort Hare to do a pre-medical course, before transferring to the University of Witwatersrand, where she qualified as a medical doctor at the age of 23. While studying medicine in Johannesburg, Zuleika joined the Progressive Forum, a group of brilliant intellectuals who joined the Non European Unity Movement (NEUM).
It was during this period that she met future husband Enver Hassim. They married in 1952.
When she returned to Durban, Zuleika worked at a provincial hospital and then opened a medical practice in Warwick Avenue, Durban in 1948 and another in Malvern, Durban in the midÂ1950s. However, both medical practices had to be closed as Zuleika rarely charged her patients for her services. Her husband would foot the bill for medicines she would dispense.
In 1961, the Durban Branch of the African Peoples Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA) was formed. Zuleika was unanimously elected the Chairperson. Many of the members of the Durban APDUSA Branch were recruited by her.
In 1960, Zuleika, Enver Hassim and Dorrie Pillay formed the AntiCentenary Celebration Committee in response to those who wanted to celebrate one hundred years of Indians’ arrival in South Africa. The NEUM oriented Committee’s position was that there was nothing for Indians to celebrate about the 100 years of their oppression and humiliation and an ‘only’ celebration flew in the face of the concept of building a single nation. The community of Greenwood Park where the Anti-Centenary Celebrations Committee was launched were exposed to radical ideas through debate and discussion as the issue of the Celebrations encompassed far more than the arrival of the Indians in South Africa. Public meetings were held and people had a thorough exposure to NEUM ideas.
Both Zuleika and Enver Hassim were served with banning orders early in 1964. In terms of their banning orders, they were prohibited from communicating with each other. During the latter part of 1964, both were detained under the 90 day detention law.
In 1966, Zuleika and Enver Hassim were charged with breaching their banning orders which forbade them, inter alia, from attending political meetings. They were found guilty and given suspended sentences.
The then United Party controlled Natal Provincial Administration dismissed Zuleika from her position as a senior medical officer. The dismissal, blatantly illegal, was successfully challenged in the Supreme Court.
The couple had to endure almost daily surveillance from the Security Police, their telephone was tapped, anonymous callers made threats, there was unauthorised opening of their mail and police raids. Eventually Zuleika, her husband, Enver Hassim and two sons, Azad and Shaheen were forced to go into exile to Canada.
Dr Zuleika Sarojini Christopher passed away in Canada in March 1992 from natural causes.