Cassim Mahomed Lakhi was the youngest son of Mahomed Lakhi and his wife, Hawa Bibi, who were both born in India. They arrived in South Africa in 1894 and settled in Greytown. Here Mahomed Lakhi started the firm of M.E. Lakhi in 1914 and played a very active role in community life. He was a great philanthropist and donated generously towards education projects, charities and numerous mosques in Natal.
Lakhi first attended school in Greytown and later in Pietermaritzburg, and matriculated at Sastri College in Durban in 1935. He then obtained a Bcom degree from Birmingham University. He enrolled at Cambridge for a law degree, but had to return to South Africa around 1940 due to his father';s illness. After his father';s death in 1941, he joined the family business in Greytown.
When the University College for Indians (now known as the University of Durban-Westville) was established in Durban in 1962, the Rector, Professor S.P. Olivier, approached Lakhi to join its Faculty of Commerce. However, Lakhi, who had developed a keen love of art in his childhood days when he used to trace embroidery patterns for his sisters, offered to teach art instead. He was appointed lecturer in the Department of History of Art. He headed the Department from its inception on 1 February 1962 until he retired on 5 December 1980 on the grounds of ill health. He became Associate Professor in 1974.
Lakhi travelled extensively with the Rector, Professor Olivier, to Indian schools in the former Natal and Transvaal to advise matriculation pupils in their choice of careers. He also played an active role in recruiting students and staff for the newly established university college.
While teaching at the college, Lakhi obtained a BEcon degree from the University of South Africa and BAHons and MA degrees in Fine Arts from the University of Natal. His MA thesis is entitled Ornament, arabesque and calligraphy in the decorative arts of Islam. He also lectured in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Natal on a part-time basis during 1971.
In 1967 Lakhi received the Carnegie Corporation scholarship which enabled him to visit several universities in the United States. Apart from his interest in art, his ambition was to establish department s of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the university college. He worked hard to establish the Oriental Studies Department where he taught Islamic Art and Architecture until his retirement. Although it was Professor Ismail al-Faruqi who motivated the establishment of the Department of Islamic Studies at the University of Durban-Westville, Lakhi deserves the credit for initiating moves in this direction.
Lakhi served on several academic committees. In July 1971 he was chosen as a member of the selection committee for the Carnegie scholarship. He was a member of the University Senate and the University';s representative on the council of the M.L. Sultan Technikon from 1 March 1978 to 28 February 1981. He also served as Rector from 1 April to 31 December 1978.
Lakhi was a keen photographer and loved music. On his death, part of his large collection of classical music records was presented to the Music Department of the University of Durban-Westville. His major hobbies were collecting Oriental art and doing Indian calligraphy. He obtained a scholarship to visit the Zik Museum in East Berlin to study its collection of early Qur';anic calligraphy. He also registered for a doctorate in Arabic calligraphy at the University of South Africa, but could not complete it because of ill health. His work adorns numerous mosques, schools and homes throughout Natal.
Lakhi was survived by his wife, Amina Mahomed Ebrahim, and two daughters. He was buried in the Lakhi family grave in Brooke Street Cemetery in Durban.
Prepared by S.E. Dangor, University of Durban-Westville. The new dictionary of South Africa biography Volume 2, Vista University, Pretoria, 1999.