Mahmoud Rajab (affectionately called as “Mamoo”), is the Managing Director of New National Assurance (South Africa’s first Black Assurance company), and has been associated with the company since its inception. However Mr Rajab’s is much more than that …
Mr Rajab has been associated with the company since its inception. He has successfully led the company through its transformation from a niche insurer servicing primarily the Natal market to a diversified one with a national footprint.
Prior to being Managing Director, Mamoo was called to the South African Bar in 1970, and served as a Member of Parliament for Springfield for the Democratic Party and its antecedent, the Progressive Federal Party, between 1984 and 1994.
Before this, he was a member of the Economics Committee of the President’s Council. He serves on the Board of the Natal Playhouse, where he is the Chairperson of the Finance Committee, and the St Aidan’s Mission Hospital. He is also Secretary of the Indian Medical Services Trust.
Mamoo is our Guest for this edition. Mohan and I visited his offices in the Durban CBD for his interview, the aesthetic flair was discernible from the time you enter his simple but elegantly maintained offices. The walls are thoughtfully decorated with the paintings by some known and unknown artists, a few sculpted pieces filled the corners of the lobby. The main office walls of Mamoo’s room were filled with family pictures and portraits and were enough to convey the prosperous background of this down to the earth person. The discussion started with our presentation on the “Indians4Africa” initiative. He was of the opinion that it would be appropriate that we choose unsung heroes for the e-magazine rather than an established and known person however, reluctantly and extremely humbly he agreed to respond to our questionnaire;
What is the connection of New National Assurance with India?
At a time when the official policy of the Indian Government was NO TRADE with South Africa, New National Assurance Company of Bombay (now Mumbai) operated a wholly-owned subsidiary in Durban. In late 60’s Mrs. Indira Gandhi nationalised all Indian-owned banks and insurance companies. So you now had the ironic situation that the government of India, in contravention of its own policies, did business with South Africa. Some bureaucrat sitting in a small office in Delhi must have realised this and representative was sent to rectify this situation and to offer the company, as it were on a platter, to a group of local Indian Businessmen in Durban. Thus the company was born.
As South Africa’s first “Black” assurance company, what should its continued success mean for Durban?
Racial tags have never been important to me or my family. If anything, we have consistently fought against it and are happy that we have a nascent democracy, which, theoretically at least, makes provision for equal opportunities for all. The Indian community can share in its success because it is predominantly, but not exclusively, an Indian owned company. In fact I personally practice against any kind of divide of opinion and opportunities on the basis of colour, religion or region. Having been involved with insurance, the cinema and politics, which have you enjoyed the most? I have enjoyed immensely my limited involvement in all these things. My family once owned the largest independent chain of cinemas in this country and I loved the excitement, the verve and the exuberance – the throngs of people, the interaction with international film stars and other screen personalities that we entertained at home and the magic of the live shows.
Who are your most favourite and least favourite people?
My family and my friends are my favourite people and I also love the company of performing artists and musicians. I hate snobs and bumptious people generally. In particular, i would like to thump bad drivers.
Who was – and is – your role model?
I have learnt much from my family, particularly A M Rajab (late uncle). My friends like Rowley Arenstein, Helen Suzman, Hajee Joosub, Pat Poovalingam and Bhai Seedat, amongst others, have all had some influence on my life.
[That was our first of a series of proposed interviews of successful people, entrepreneurs, pesonalities that will be presented in our news letter]
“Interview conducted by editors Devendra Sharma and Mohan Nair for Indians4Africa“