Johannesburg - The Kathrada Foundation has hailed struggle stalwart Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim as one of the country’s brave revolutionaries. On Saturday night the Foundation honoured Ebrahim’s contribution to the struggle for liberation and our democracy at a glittering event held at The Venue in Melrose Arch, billed “The Life and Times of Ebie Ebrahim,” to mark his 80th birthday.
Many of the ANC’s top brass attended the event, with former President Kgalema Motlanthe giving the opening tribute, and former First Lady Winnie Mandela, Treasurer General Zweli Mkize, former AU Chair Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and numerous ministers in attendance.
The event turned out to be a reunion of some of the founding members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, former Robben Islanders, and ANC leaders who had been in exile in the front line states during the 1980s. Helene Passtoors, who worked in Special Operations under Joe Slovo in the 1980s in both Mozambique and Swaziland, flew in especially to speak at the occasion.
“In the dangerous underground days on the front line states, Ebie was in charge of the ANC’s Political Military Committee in Swaziland. He was one of the few ANC leaders who went into South Africa in disguise on a secret mission, and was later abducted by apartheid intelligence agents in 1986,” Passtoors said.
“Despite the inherent dangers of our underground work, given the infiltration of apartheid agents into Swaziland, Ebie was insistent on being close to his people, and took risks that many other comrades were not prepared to,” she said.
Film producer Anant Singh produced a much anticipated video on Ebrahim’s life which was screened at the event, in which former President Nelson Mandela was featured speaking about Ebrahim’s contribution. “He emerged as one of the most outstanding pillars of the movement, who was not only committed and loyal, but who had the ability to explain the policy of the organisation,” Mandela said following Ebrahim’s release from a second sentence on Robben Island in 1991.
“Ebie is a relatively unsung hero, and I know of his immense commitment and contribution to our liberation through many people around him, especially Ahmed Kathrada,” Anant Singh said following the production of the video tribute.
Ebrahim was accused number one in the Pietermaritzburg sabotage trial in 1964, and sentenced to 15 years on Robben Island for his role as an MK commander blowing up targets of the apartheid state. Both Ronnie Kasrils and Sunny Singh who were key operatives with Ebrahim during the sabotage campaign in Natal in the early 1960s were also present at the dinner event.
“Ebie was selected to carry out one of the most sensational attacks in Durban where three electricity pylons were blown up which plunged the whole city of Durban into darkness,” Singh recalled of one of their signature operations. “Following Ebrahim’s abduction from Swaziland in 1986, he was subjected to systematic and calculated cold torture, where the security police constantly used heavy sounds to disorientate him,” Singh said.
“During Ebie’s detention in John Vorster Square in 1987 where he was being held in solitary confinement and tortured, we passed each other accidentally in the exercise courtyard,” Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance Obed Bapela recalled. “I recognised him as the ANC leader who had been abducted from Swaziland, and it was the first time since his abduction six weeks prior that anyone in the ANC knew what the apartheid state had done with him.”
A key theme during the dinner event was that Ebrahim was a quiet and unassuming ANC leader who always shunned the limelight. “It would be hard to overestimate the impact he had on our political struggle in the 1980s,” Passtoors said.
At a time when the ANC is saying good bye to many principled and brave leaders of the struggle, its leadership came together in a show of unity on Saturday to celebrate the life of one of the movement’s heroes. The message was not lost on Ebrahim’s eight and ten year old children who were present at the event, and performed their own tribute in the form of a rap about their father’s life in the struggle.