The marriage of late former deputy International Relations minister Ebrahim Ebrahim and his wife Shannon was “an unusual combination of a white Christian woman and an Indian Muslim man”, but the couple made it work.
Both families were religious ‒ his being conservative Muslim, while Shannon's brother is an Evangelical pastor ‒ but each accepted the other’s partner, Shannon said ahead of the 2pm Durban launch at Moses Mabhida Stadium today of Ebrahim’s autobiography Beyond Fear: Reflections of a Freedom Fighter.
“Everyone from my family had immense respect for Ebie, and his family welcomed me with open arms,” she said.
The pair met in South Africa in 1998 when she, then living in Canada, was doing research on United Nations’ reforms, and Ebrahim was chair of the Foreign Affairs portfolio committee.
They met again the next year when she returned for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, during which period Ebrahim lost his mom, and his brother just ten days later.
A year of talking on the phone daily and keeping in touch followed. In 2000, Shannon returned to South Africa for good and they married four years later.
Ebrahim writes in the autobiography that he wondered during his two stints on Robben Island whether he would ever marry and have children.
Having achieved the former, Ebrahim was nervous at the prospect of dealing with babies at his advanced age ‒ their daughter was born when he was 69 and their son at 71 ‒ but Shannon said he developed a special relationship with their two children.
“I’ve never seen a human being so besotted with two young children. He always made time for them even while travelling on government and ANC business.”
Both remained committed to their own religious beliefs and agreed the children would not be indoctrinated into either religion, and would be allowed to choose for themselves.
“Many would not understand a relationship with someone 35 years older,” Shannon said, adding, “it was unusual but we never felt the age difference because we had many areas of common interest”, not least of which was international relations.
Away from government business, Ebrahim was adventurous and loved travel, visiting more than 80 countries, including a memorable camel safari the couple undertook in the Thar desert.
Ebrahim describes in the book his path to forgiveness and reconciliation, and Shannon said he had “an incredible lack of bitterness and rancour towards those who betrayed and testified against him”, and the policeman who interrogated and tortured him. However, he was disappointed that apartheid Security Branch police were unable to change their thinking and had maintained silence over what they had done.
He was also disillusioned by state capture and had watched the Zondo Commission hearings in disbelief at the corruption that had gone on.
Ebrahim addressed the book to his children which is written in an accessible, simple way to reach the younger generation ‒ “so that they could understand what the revolutionaries of our struggle went through, how much they sacrificed, the lengths of the deprivation they endured and why they did it”.
Shannon said Ebrahim had fought long and hard against the illness which eventually took his life in December.
- Beyond Fear: Reflections of a Freedom Fighter
The Independent on Saturday