‘Mr Wembley’ stayed true to humble roots

Gasant Abarder
27 Jun ’16

Cape Town – Very few people will know where the name Wembley – the name of one of Cape Town’s most iconic group of businesses – comes from.

But it also tells a story about the humble roots of its well-known owner Abdullah Gangraker, who died on Sunday aged 72.

In his biography, Wembley Echoes, Gangraker reveals how his father latched on to a name that some of his favourite customers had suggested.

The Wembley Group of Companies started with Gangraker’s father Mohamed Eshack Gangraker’s EO Gangraker Stores and it became deeply rooted in the community. It was this sense of community Gangraker fostered and passed on to his son Abdullah. It has become part of the philosophy of the business the Gangrakers and Wembley runs to this day.

In the biography, which he published as recollections and reflections to share with family and friends to inspire them so they may learn from his mistakes, Gangraker writes: “One day my father stood on the stoep of his shop, engaging the young men who regularly gathered there.

“My father enjoyed their company, enjoyed listening to them and making conversation with them. On a particular day he told them he was thinking of changing the name of his shop and he asked them what they thought the new name should be.

“In unison, they shouted: Wembley!’ This was the name of the local soccer team for which the youngsters played.

“So encouraged and humbled by their support and enthusiasm, my father agreed and EO Gangraker Stores became Wembley Stores.

“It is ironic and indeed no idle boast that when people in the Cape hear the name Wembley, they immediately think of either the world famous Wembley Soccer Stadium in London or they think of the Wembley Group of Companies.

“The irony is that soccer does link the two – the stadium is the home of soccer and it is soccer that gave our company its name.”

On the occasion of his 65th birthday, Gangraker’s nephew, Ashraf Gangraker, wrote in a tribute to his uncle: “Retail runs in Abdullah Gangraker’s veins. He was practically born in the small shop established by his father, an immigrant from India, in 1932.

“As a small boy, he performed menial tasks in the store – sweeping, packing, delivering, etc. This continued throughout his school career as well.

“His involvement in the business provided him with the necessary skills to assume full control upon the death of his father in 1971. The traditional over-the-counter grocery store became a modern supermarket, offering a variety of quality goods and frequented by eager customers from all over.

“Notwithstanding his business acumen and prowess, Abdullah Gangraker is also a philanthropist, eager to uplift the community that has served his company so well. The Wembley Group of Companies is the title sponsor of the Rygate Soccer League; sponsors a home at the SOS Children’s Village; served as sponsor of a community cricket festival; and in years gone past, organised athletics events under the banner of the South African Council of Sport (Sacos).

“In short, Abdullah Esack Gangraker is an iconic man – quiet, unassuming, humble, yet determined, he has earned the respect of all who know him.

“His integrity and determination to do the right thing has endeared him to all.

“The selfless dedication to work to serve humanity has brought benefit to people across the length and breadth of our country. He has played a leading role in the community and he is a shining example others would do well to emulate.”

Gangraker purchased the prime land in Gatesville where the building of the Masjidul-Quds mosque stands and where the prayers were offered before his burial on Sunday.

In Wembley Echoes, Gangraker writes: “My involvement in Masjidul-Quds Gatesville has been a constant joy in my life. It has been a privilege to be part of a team that has overseen the building of the mosque from its foundations to its present state.

“From the outset, we wanted this mosque to serve the community, to be a place of refuge for the weary, to be a centre of learning, to stand as a beacon of hope in times of despair.”

Gangraker is survived by his wife Fatima and children Asghari, Chaan Bibi, Mujeeb, Haliema, Sumaya and Sakeena.

Cape Argus (edited)

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