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35 years later, these Cape organisations still feed thousands on Eid

What started between three friends using two small pots in 1984 has turned into what’s now become a mass cooking event where 300 volunteers join hands to cook food for thousands of people all over the Western Cape.

At least 300 volunteers from Rylands based organization Nakhlistan are set to feed 85,000 Cape residents on Eid, on 6 June 2019. Picture: Lizell Persens/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Thirty-five years ago non-profit organisation Nakhlistan started cooking the day before Eid-ul-Fitr in order to feed the less fortunate in the community of Rylands.

What started between three friends using two small pots in 1984 has turned into what’s now become a mass cooking event where 300 volunteers join hands to cook food for thousands of people all over the Western Cape.

WATCH: Tons of rice & lots of love: How a Cape NPO feeds 85,000 people on Eid

Nakhlistan, in partnership with Mustadafin Foundation, feed 85,000 people on the day of Eid, which is marked on 5 June this year.

While Nakhlistan focuses on the cooking component, Mustadafin Foundation focuses on distributing the meals to areas such as Atlantis, Hout Bay, Uitsig, Manenberg and many more.

Muslims all over the globe celebrate Eid-al-Fitr annually which means “festival of breaking the fast” in Arabic. It highlights the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month.

The food, however, is distributed to needy folk of all faiths.

Nakhlistan’s public relations officer Fatima Allie explains: “Nakhlistan is a Muslim-based organisation, but we feed everybody and that is what makes this organisation such a beautiful organisation.”

Over the years the quantities and sizes of pots have continued to grow, increasing the network. For the past four years, 169 pots sized at 130 litres have been made. Each pot feeds 320 people on average.

The mass cooking event takes place the night before Eid, where hundreds of volunteers gather at Callies Rugby Grounds near Athlone to fire the pots and cook for up to five hours.

Mustadafin Foundation director Ghairunisa Johnstone-Cassiem explains why they’ve been doing this for more than three decades: “The feeding of the poor is a big part of the Muslim community and in the month of Ramadan when you fast for up to 30 days, it reminds us that there are poor people who don’t have a choice. We have a choice to fast. We make it our intention to fast when we abstain from sunrise to sunset, but it’s a choice you make as a Muslim. There are poor people who don’t have that choice.”

Johnstone-Cassiem has been a part of the initiative since it started in the early eighties.

Fatima Allie says the meal which is made each year is meat akni, as this is deemed as a royal delicacy and considered to be the most filling meal.

Allie has been following the work of the organisation since they started and joined the organisation in 2005. “When we do what we do, it is because of the appreciation that we see on the faces, not only of the elderly or the adults, but especially of the children.”

Months of planning go into ensuring everything runs smoothly, as many ingredients are required.

Johnstone-Cassiem adds: “Twenty-seven kilogrammes of rice goes into one pot, so those are the amounts you're looking at besides your masalas, garlic, ginger and salt. It’s eight bunches of danya per pot and it's open fire. The day before Eid you start cooking at 7pm. The preparation is not just done on that day, but the preparation is done the day before. So, if you start cooking on 4 June, the potatoes, onions and meat gets chopped and cleaned on 3 June already.”

Asif Parker has been assisting as a volunteer for the past 24 years. He said: “Back then we used to peel potatoes and clean the onions, take off the chilli stems, so it goes way back. Knowing there’s a hungry tummy out there somewhere, you realise that you someone has to take charge and cook a pot somewhere, somehow.”

The only other person besides founder Shukoor Mowzer who knows the secret recipe is volunteer Abdul Hoosain.

Hoosain says even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to share the recipe as he judges the quantity of each spice by following his gut.

Hoosain started volunteering in 1994 and has been returning ever since. “I do it for the community, not for monetary gain. I don’t get paid. It’s purely for charity.”

To date, it would be impossible to quantify how many hungry mouths have been fed over the years, but the community and donor funded-organisations continue to evoke excitement in the hearts of many expectant folk this winter.