17 August 2022

Dr Ismail Vadi, former ANC MP and current member of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation recounts his association with Ebrahim in Parliament – and also during the time when he performed Hajj with him.

Three words best describe Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim – humility, bravery and kindness. A committed ANC leader until the end, Ebrahim was loved by comrades and friends within the ANC, the tripartite alliance and across progressive political movements in the Middle East and globally.

Ebrahim passed away at his home on 6 December after struggling with lung cancer. He was honoured by the Gauteng provincial government with a ‘special official funeral’ and buried according to Islamic rights the next day in Westpark cemetery in Johannesburg.

He was the epitome of humility. Anyone who met him – even for a moment – was struck by his absolute humbleness and visible simplicity. There was no such a thing as ‘protocol’ with Ebrahim. Any interaction with him – be it official, political or social – was relaxed, cordial and comfortable. Until the end he drove a Toyota Corolla and lived in an inexpensive apartment in Pretoria.

Ebrahim was a significant leader in the liberation movement in South Africa. As a teenager he became a committed Natal Indian Congress (NIC) activist in the early 1950s and had participated in every phase of the freedom struggle in subsequent years.

He was an active participant in mass struggles such as the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the campaign for the Congress of the People and Freedom Charter (1955) and the struggle against the implementation of the Group Areas Act in Natal.

When the armed struggle was launched by the ANC in 1961, Ebrahim was among the first recruits to its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). As his bravery and courage manifested itself, he was appointed onto the MK Natal Regional Command, and carried out one of the most dramatic acts of sabotage that left large parts of Durban without electricity.

Apartheid

Ebrahim was arrested in late 1963 and sentenced with several other Natal cadres to 15 years imprisonment in Robben Island Prison. On his release he immediately got involved in the ANC underground. When it was clear that the apartheid security police were on his tail, he went into exile and headed the ANC Political-Military Committee in Swaziland. There he was exposed by an informer, and Ebrahim was abducted by intelligence personnel linked to the apartheid government.

He was tried in South Africa and sentenced to 20 years, again on Robben Island. He challenged his abduction in court and secured a landmark judgement that declared his arrest illegal. Ebrahim was freed in 1991 and unhesitatingly took up a full-time position at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg. Those who worked with him in the ANC underground will attest to his bravery, courage and daring demeanour in the face of an oppressor. He never broke under severe physical and psychological torture in detention.

Officially, Ebrahim served as an ANC MP, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Parliamentary Counsellor to former President Jacob Zuma. On his retirement from parliamentary politics, he was active in the In Transformation Initiative (ITI) promoting peace in conflict-ridden states, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

Ebrahim was a committed ANC man; his brother, the late Gora Ebrahim, was a devoted member of the PAC. Both were MPs and often I enjoyed lunch with them in parliament. It was here that Ebrahim’s kindness shone through. The two brothers displayed enormous respect, tolerance, love and kindness to each other. There was never a trace of political bickering and meanness between them.

A similar trait was evident in Ebrahim’s attitude to all others, even to members of other opposition parties. His love and kindness to his family, friends and comrades was all-consuming. One felt it as soon as one encountered him.

To a casual observer it may appear that Ebrahim outwardly was not a religious person. But he was deeply spiritual; he lived his faith through his humility, bravery and kindness to all people, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, language or culture. I was fortunate to have performed hajj with him.

Haji Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim – a gentle revolutionary – is gone. There’s a void in our lives. We will miss his broad smile, warmth and generosity of spirit.

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