29 November 2023

[Photo source - Yusuf Abramjee/Twitter]

By Ahmed Manjra

Well known freedom fighter and journalist, Rafiq Rohan, returned to the Mercy of Allah a few weeks ago.

Rafiq was a champion for human rights and dedicated his entire life fighting for justice and establishing a non-racial society.

He was raised in Durban in a mixed-race Christian family and was exposed to racism and the horrors of apartheid at an early age. He grew up in very difficult circumstances and valued the importance of education early on. He was badly disfigured in an accidental fire at home when he was a young boy and had to endure living a life with taunts. This experience made him more determined to succeed academically. He immersed himself in books and in his quest for knowledge he came across “The Autobiography of Malcom X”, which at that time was banned by the apartheid government. Incidentally this is also a book that I read as a teenager in high school that deeply influenced my political awareness. It was this book that led Rafiq to Islam.

He converted to Islam at the hands of Mr Goolam Hoosen Vanker of the Islamic Propagation Centre during his teenage years. He was met with fierce resistance from his family, but they eventually accepted his new way of life. He then enrolled at the then University of Durban Westville and came into contact with political activists and members of the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM), an organisation that he later joined.

He initially started work as a schoolteacher on the Cape Flats and became disillusioned with their ‘political quietness’. He then joined the KZN based publication, The Post, as a journalist.

Rafiq was a highly respected journalist and made invaluable contributions to the field of journalism. He was a fearless advocate for truth, justice, and human rights, and his reporting on issues ranging from corruption to political oppression was instrumental in bringing about positive change.

Throughout his career, Rohan demonstrated an unwavering commitment to uncovering the truth and shedding light on important issues. He was a skilled writer and communicator who used his platform to give voice to the voiceless and hold those in power accountable.

He was recruited by the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) whilst covering an assignment as a journalist for the Daily News. This was at a time just before the unbanning of the ANC when local political and business leaders were conducting meetings with the exiled ANC in Lusaka.

He was given military training in Zambia by the ANC, and it was easy for him to slip in and out of the country using his journalist credentials.

Following various operations for MK, Rafiq was convicted of 29 counts of terrorism. He was sentenced in April 1990 to 15 years imprisonment for placing a limpet mine at the then CR Swart Square police station in Durban on 7 April 1989. He was shot in the leg during a high-speed chase through the streets of Durban and was eventually captured by the security police. He was always grateful that none of his bombings caused any loss of life.

While in detention and solitary confinement he was severely tortured. He was subsequently moved to Westville Prison in the hospital section where conditions were much better. His family and members of the MYM were allowed to visit him. After sentencing he was moved to Robben Island where he was interned in the cell that was last occupied by Nelson Mandela. This was in 1990 when the ANC was unbanned, and Mandela had long been moved to Pollsmor Prison. Most of the high-ranking ANC prisoners were released in 1991. Rafiq and about 60 others were still imprisoned and not granted amnesty. They embarked on a two week long hunger strike which eventually prompted the apartheid government to release him and other prisoners.

Rafiq went back to journalism and served in various capacities in the press as well as in the Government Communications and Information Service, the governments’ communications arm.

He retired from journalism many years ago and moved to Durban to be close to his family and friends.  He lived alone and was found dead by his neighbours on February 22nd. There was speculation that he was murdered but this has remained unconfirmed. The post-mortem done did not reveal any unnatural cause of death.

I first met Rafiq when I joined the MYM in 1979. Since our first meeting we became good friends. We often met at MYM meetings and events. During his incarceration on Robben Island, I was fortunate to have visited him several times since I was living in Cape Town in 1990.  We also kept in contact through correspondence whilst he was on Robben Island. While reading his letters after his death, I realized that Rafiq was very attached to the Qur’an. He writes that the only thing that kept him sane in prison was the study of the Qur’an. He also expressed the desire to get more involved in Islamic activities.

In the last year of his life, he became more spiritual and was a regular musallee at his local masjid. He found solace in the musjid environment away from a world that posed many challenges in his life. He endured great hardship with determination, patience, and steadfastness. He felt abandoned by those that were close to him in the latter years of his life.

Rafiq has written his biography which makes compelling reading. It is our responsibility, as his friends, to publish the book so that future generations of Muslims will be inspired by his life.

Rafiq was critical of the failings of the ANC government in the latter years of his life. His legacy lives on as an inspiration to all who seek to make a positive difference in the world. He reminds us of the importance of standing up for what is right, even in the face of great adversity, and of the power of the written word to effect change. His courage, dedication, and passion for justice will always be remembered and celebrated.

We pray to Allah (SWT) to grant Rafiq the highest stages of Jannatul Firdose and to grant his family Sabruun Jameel. He is survived by his daughter, two grandchildren and his sister.

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