The Kingsgate Clothing Group stands today, proudly South African and internationally competitive, a living and thriving memorial to a handful of remarkable men. It would be invidious to compare their contributions but suffice it to say that Ahmed-Sadek Vahed is second to none among them. It is also a beacon of their humanity and humility that each of them would have acknowledged that they could not have done it without the thousands of men and women who have been part of the Group over the years.
In addition to Kingsgate, all of them shared other features. They were all descendants of the early Indian migration to South Africa, an experience which gave them a hereditary insight into hardship and poverty and from which each of them attained great success through their own great efforts and talents. But the experience left them all with an understanding and empathy for those less fortunate and in spite of the demanding targets and tasks they set themselves, they all found time and energy to play leading roles in their country's social, economic and political fabric.
Ahmed-Sadek Vahed was born in Durban, South Africa, on 22 November 1934 to Mariam and Ismail Vahed. The family lived in the landmark Moosa Hajee Cassim Building in Commercial Road, and his father Ismail owned a retail store, Majestic, in Grey Street. Ahmed-Sadek was 11 years-old when his father died in 1945. He attended Greyville Government Aided School, which he left at the age of fourteen to begin his apprenticeship in the clothing industry. A keen and enthusiastic learner, he quickly familiarised himself with all aspects of clothing marketing and manufacturing.
Ahmed-Sadek Vahed started his apprenticeship at Lockhat Bros. in the piece goods section. His responsibilities included identifying orders, cutting fabric for agents, and other odd jobs. He moved after a few months to the clothing division, acquiring a thorough knowledge of import-export documentation, and a deep passion for international business, particularly exports, which fared him well, all his life. He also learned the value of precise documentation, a habit that stuck with him, as many a divisional head in the Kingsgate Clothing Group will testify.
Ahmed-Sadek Vahed's knowledge of clothing and flair for marketing pinpointed him for selection to start a clothing division in the family business Mahomed, Ismail and Co. a small piece goods wholesaler at that time which was based at 375 Pine Street, Durban. He favoured this option as he was very independently-minded and wanted the freedom to run his own operation with fewer encumbrances. In 1955 he joined his Uncle, Dr A.M. Moolla, who also became his father-in-law, founding what later became the Kingsgate Clothing Group.
When Dr Moolla passed away in April 1980, Ahmed-Sadek Vahed succeeded him as Executive Chairman, a position that he held until his death. His personality and approach differed significantly from Dr Moolla, being a risk-taker by nature, and thriving when the pressure was on. It was at this stage that his dynamic leadership began to show its true calibre, driving the Group through arguably the most tempestuous period in the history of South Africa and the company itself. As with the other leaders of Kingsgate, but only even more so, Ahmed-Sadek Vahed was faced with the challenges and opportunities to show that uniquely true greatness is more than attaining great achievements – it is doing so in the face of adversity; of powerful and established disadvantages. Overcoming the tough social, economic and political barriers in apartheid South Africa to evolve into a major player in the clothing industry is Dr Vahed's greatest legacy. In the process, he contributed greatly to the industry and the country as well.
Except for a brief period between October 1997 and February 2001 when the company was listed as the A.M. Moolla Group Limited in the Clothing, Footwear and Textiles sector of the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, the Group has been one of the largest unlisted private apparel manufacturers in Southern Africa. Today, it employs a workforce of almost 7,000, both directly within its in-house factories and indirectly via various cut, make and trim (CMT) firms that it utilises, both locally and in neighbouring countries.
Under Dr Vahed’s direction the Group and he personally won a list of accolades. His personal achievements include:
- “Marketing Man of the Year”, Institute of Marketing Management (1988)
- “Natal Mercury I British Airways Award for Business Excellence” (1993);
- “State President's Merit Award for Export Achievement” (1993);
- President of the National Clothing Federation of South Africa (1994-1995);
- Chairman of the Natal Clothing Manufacturers Association in 1992 and 1993;
- Nominated to the State President’s Economic Advisory Council (1985-1994).
- Dr Vahed’s non-executive outside directorships in companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange included:
- General Accident Insurance Company (1990 - 1993);
- New Africa Investments Ltd. (NAIL) (1994-1999), which was the first Black Empowerment listing on the JSE;
- Malbak (1994 - 1997);
- South African Foreign Trade Organisation (1990 – 1997);
- First Asian Investment Corporation Limited (FASIC) (1997 – 2000);
- Dr Vahed held non-executive directorship on the main board of FirstRand Bank Holdings for seventeen and a half years.
In recognition of his contribution to the clothing industry in particular and the economy of KwaZulu-Natal in general, Dr Vahed was awarded the following honorary degrees:
- Honorary Doctorate in Economics, University of Natal, 1998.
- Honorary Doctorate in Commerce, University of Durban-Westville, 1994
Dr Vahed was involved in a number of public activities. His public positions included:
- Trustee of the A M Moolla Charity Trust
- Orient Islamic Educational Institute
- Asherville Islamic Trust
- Anjuman Islam Trust (West Street Mosque)
- Muslims Charitable Foundation
- Member of the Yale Executive Club
Dr Vahed, will be remembered as a visionary and an icon by all who knew him. He passed away at Saint Augustines Hospital on Monday, 19 December 2011 from a heart attack and other health complications, having passed on the baton to his eldest son, Mr Yusuf Vahed to lead Kingsgate into the future.