NIC delegate to the Congress of the People, Kliptown, Member of the NIC, MK, African National Congress and the ANC's National Executive Committee. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
Born in Durban on 1 July 1937, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim was the second of five children. When he was a few months old Ebrahim's mother became ill and he was sent to live with his grandmother at Effingham, Natal. When he was two, his father's business went bankrupt and although Ebrahim's parents moved to the Transvaal, he remained with his grandmother until he started school.
Because Ebrahim's parents had difficulty in getting him a plac e in the overcrowded schools he only began his schooling at the age of ten at the Hindu Tamil Institute. He later attended Clairwood High School where he passed his Junior Certificate. He matriculated from Sastri College in Durban in 1959.
As a child, Ebrahim twice witnessed his father's arrest and deportation from the Transvaal for crossing the provincial border into Natal without a permit. The National Party had just come to power when Ebrahim started school and he was conscious of the NP's election promise to repatriate Indians. He began to attend political meetings with his elder brother, Gora, during the Indian passive resistance campaign. By the time the ANC called a stayaway in June 1950, Ebrahim was distributing their leaflets.
From 1952 Ebrahim's involvement increased substantially with the development of the Defiance Campaign. He attended its first meeting in Durban at 'Red Square' (Nichol Square) where he heard speeches by Chief Albert Luthuli and Dr Monty Naicker. The crowd then marched with the defiance volunteers to the Berea Road police station where they occupied the 'whites-only' waiting room and were arrested. Ebrahim's attempts to volunteer were refused by the organisers as he was under age, but he immediately joined the Natal Indian Youth Congress and spent his time after school printing leaflets, arranging meetings, carrying posters and undertaking other work for the organisation. As a result he became involved in the day-to-day running of the Defiance Campaign.
Ebrahim joined the Greyville branch of the Natal Indian Congress and was elected as its chair in 1954. The following year he participated in preparations for the Congress of the People, canvassing from house to house and completing hundreds of questionnaires. Ebrahim was elected as one of two delegates to represent the Greyville area at the Congress of the People, where the Freedom Charter was adopted on 26 June 1955. The event left a deep impression on him both because the gathering was non-racial, and also because of the police raid which took place during the assembly. As he had not applied for a permit to be in the Transvaal, Ebrahim supplied police with a false name and address.
On his return to Durban, Ebrahim's activities centred around fundraising for the 156 congress movement treason trialists.
In March 1959 Ebrahim was a delegate to the Anti-Pass Conference in Johannesburg addressed by Oliver Tambo. The meeting decided to hold a potato boycott in protest against Bethal farmers' treatment of prison labourers.
Ebrahim also helped organise the ANC's Anti-Pass campaign which was due to start on 31 March 1960. However, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) commenced its own campaign ten days earlier and on 21 March 1960 69 people were killed when police opened fire on an anti-pass gathering outside the Sharpeville police station. Thereafter a state of emergency was declared followed by the banning of both the ANC and the PAC on 8 April. However, the NIC continued to function and liaise with other congress leaders who had gone underground. Many NIC officials were restricted and harassed, and much of the organisation's activities had to be undertaken secretly. Ebrahim concluded that the non-violent struggle of the 1950s had come to an end and new strategies would have to be adopted.
As ANC membership was at that time restricted to Africans, Ebrahim could not join. He continued in his NIC branch activity, but when he was approached to join Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) towards the end of 1960, he accepted, as he believed that all non-violent avenues to implementing the Freedom Charter and advancing the struggle for non-racialism had been closed. In August 1963 Ebrahim was detained and charged with 18 others in what became known as the 'mini-Rivonia' trial. He was convicted on three counts of sabotage in February 1964, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island. Whilst in prison he completed a BA degree, majoring in history and psychology, and a BCom degree.
Shortly before his release from prison in February 1979 Ebrahim was banned in terms of the Internal Security Act. He was restricted to the magisterial area of Pinetown and prevented from visiting any African, coloured or Indian area, except Reservoir Hills. He had to report every Monday to the Westville police station and was prohibited from attending any social or political gathering or any gathering of pupils or students. In December 1980 Ebrahim received instructions from the ANC to leave South Africa and proceed to Lusaka via Swazi-land. In 1985 Ebrahim re-entered South Africa on a political mission and lived incognito in Durban, though he often travelled to Johannes-burg. He had frequent contact with Helene Pastoors, a Dutch/Belgian citizen, who was sentenced to ten years imprisonment for treasonable offences linked to the ANC. Ebrahim disappeared after her arrest and resurfaced in Lusaka a few months later. He travelled in neighbouring states until his return to Swaziland in 1986.
On 15 December 1986 he was abducted from his house in the Umbuluzi valley, Swaziland, by two men. A colleague, Msizeni Shadrack Mapamulo, was shot during the abduction. Ebrahim was brought back to South Africa, detained in Pretoria, and charged with high treason in May 1987. At the trial the state claimed that he had become a leading MK organiser and chairman of the ANC's regional political-military committee which co-ordinated ANC structures in the Transvaal and Natal. Ebrahim was found guilty on the main charge of treason and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in January 1989.
In February 1991 Ebrahim was released after the Appellate Division ruled that the courts had no jurisdiction to try him because of his abduction from Swaziland.
At the ANC national congress held in Durban in July 1991, Ebrahim was elected to its national executive committee and subsequently to the movement's national working committee. He is presently a member of the organising department of the ANC.
Ebrahim has a daughter, Cassia, with Dr Julia Wells, a university lecturer in Zimbabwe.
• Daily News, 5 July 1979.
• Post, 17 December 1980.
• Daily News, 4 January 1987.
• Sunday Times, 27 November 1988.
• Sunday Tribune, 22 January 1989.
• Daily News, 23 January 1989.
• South African Institute of Race Relations, Race Relations Survey, 1987/88 and 1988/89, Johannesburg, 1988 and 1989.
• Sunday Times, 3 March 1991.