Yunus Ismail Mahomed

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Biographical information

Yunus Ismail Mahomed

Synopsis:

Lawyer, business person and member of the ANC and SACP, Regional Secretary of the UDF (Natal)

First name: 
Yunus
Middle name: 
Ismail
Last name: 
Mahomed
Date of birth: 
30-December-1950
Location of birth: 
Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng),South Africa
Date of death: 
January 2008
Location of death: 
Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Yunus Ismail Mahomed was born in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng) on 30 December in 1950 to Amina and Ismail Mahomed.Mahomed grew up in Jeppe, attending Gold Street Primary School and then William Hills Secondary School in Benoni from which he matriculated in 1967.  As a young scholar he became conscious of the inequities of the apartheid system. The train journey that he daily undertook to school passed through well-appointed white suburbs that contrasted starkly with the deprivation of Black communities. At school Mahomed’s political outlook was developed by teachers of conscience, and as a teen in 1966, a time of great fear under a blanket of repression, he courageously distributed pamphlets against the commemoration of Republic Day.He spent a year in Pakistan,worked as a clerk,then enrolled at University of Durban-Westville where he participated in the students protest that followed O.R.Tiro's expulsion at Turfloop in 1972.

Mahomed worked for Prudential Insurance Company in Johannesburg and Orchids Products in Durban before he went on to study at the University of Durban-Westville (UD-W). Here he became involved in the student movement, including a national class boycott organised by the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) in 1972. But the strategic acumen for which he became universally known was already evident in the struggles he joined for an independent Student Representative Council (SRC) and to grow a student organisation on a proactive and sustained basis.

It was while at UD-W that Mahomed, together with his peers as Yunus Suleman, Zak Yacoob, Krish Govender, Roy Padayachie and Pravin Gordhan, drew inspired organisational and strategic lessons from other struggles in the developing world and, sought vitally to relate to the historical experience of struggle in South Africa itself.  Informed by this Mohamed inevitably became involved in the revived Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in 1970, serving on its executive from the late 1970s on and contributed significantly to the popular rebuilding of the Congress movement, its values, outlook and programme, after its long years of repressed silence in the 1960s. By the late 1970s Mohamed had joined the underground of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

In 1974 Yunus undertook legal articles in Durban and in 1975 completed a B. Proc degree through the University of South Africa (UNISA). He was admitted as an attorney in 1976 and went on to become a partner at Shun Chetty and Company, invariably representing anti-apartheid activists and causes even in professional life. Amidst the student uprisings of the mid seventies Mohamed devoted himself to the day-to-day needs of communities, agitating community wide unity and democratic participation and organisation in local issues caused by apartheid policies, and concretely built the mass democratic movement for fundamental change.In November 1978 he was elected to the executive of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC)where hisenergetic activism posed a challenge to the older,more cautions generation of NIC leaders.

Mohamed helped establish the Phoenix Working Committee (PWC) which resonated across the country and through the 1980s as a model of democratic grassroots mobilization, organisation and civic participation. Among the many organisations of the democratic movement in which Mohamed was active were the Democratic Lawyers Association (DLA), the Chatsworth Housing Action Committee (CHAC), the Natal Rates Committee (NRC) and the Durban Housing Action Committee (DHAC).  Mohamed committed himself to building the democratic movement on a non-racial basis in all communities, working closely with the likes of Archie Gumede, Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, Virgile Bonhomme, Jabu Sithole, Lechesa Tsenoli and Baba Dlamini. In the late 1980s he represented the United Democratic Front (UDF) on a joint committee with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to work for peace with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in stemming the endemic violence in Natal townships at the time. For his activism Mohamed suffered house arrest and detention, including in 1981 under the notorious Section 6 of the Terrorism Act.

Mohamed was a central figure in the revival and development of the Congress movement, including in the national Anti-South African Indian Council (SAIC) campaigns of 1981, which together with mass based community organisations, the national student movement, the Anti-Republic campaign, Wilson Rowntree workers strike and consumer boycott, gave it rising cohesion, identity and power.Mohamed consequently served on the steering committee that led the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983 and served as the Natal regional secretary of the UDF as well as a member of its national executive.In 1984 Mohamed was central in organising the occupation of the British Consulate by UDF leaders wanted on treason charges. This tactic spotlighted intense international attention on the repression of the apartheid government. 

Mohamed was again detained in 1985 under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act as the state sought now to build a treason case against him and others.In 1986 Mohamed was deployed to building the Economic Intelligence Desk of the African National Congress (ANC), working underground in developing the economic policies of the ANC.This led to the launch the Consultative Business Forum (CBF) to promote the interaction of business with the ANC and, with the establishment of CBF Holdings, was the basis of Mohamed’s involvement in business and economic transformation since the mid 1990s.Kagiso Trust, which Mohamed helped establish in 1985 to channel European Union support to victims of apartheid and which grew as a social development grant agency, achieved self-sufficiency post-apartheid with Mohamed’s sound strategic instincts as it established Kagiso Trust Investments.At the time of his passing Mohamed was Chairman of Kagiso Trust and, as Deputy Chairman of Kagio Trust Investments had contributed to it becoming one of the country’s largest empowerment groups.Yunus Ismail Mahomed passed away in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in January 2008. 

 


References:
• Kagiso Trust chairperson dies. Mail & Guardian [Online] 10 January. Available at: mg.co.za [Accessed 25 January 2010]
• Biographical material supplied by Charm Govender, August 2011 - Email to Jeeva Rajgopaul, SAHO, 18 August 2011, from Charm Govender
• Gail M. Gerhart, Teresa Barnes, Antony Bugg-Levine, Thomas Karis, Nimrod Mkele .From Protest to Challenge 4-Political Profiles (1882-1990) http://www.jacana.co.za/component/virtuemart/?keyword=from+protest+to+ch... (last accessed 18 June 2019)

Last updated : 18-Jun-2019

This article was produced by South African History Online on 08-Feb-2019

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