Ismail Coovadia - Norway and Iceland, Helsinki
Ismail Coovadia - Norway and Iceland, Helsinki

Paying tribute to Ismail Coovadia, a true South African hero

By Opinion Time of article published May 29, 2021

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By Ambassador Welile Nhlapo

This past weekend we lost one of our veterans, Ambassador Ismail Coovadia. I first met him in London in January 1978. He met me at the Victoria station in London after I had arrived from Angola to work in the ANC office. I had just been appointed as Deputy Editor of Sechaba, the official publication of the ANC.

He drove me to the ANC office in Rathbone Street and I was received by comrades Reg September, Francis Meli, my editor, and other staff members.

Comrade Ismail immediately opened a bale and asked me to choose warm clothes since I was scantily dressed for London's extreme cold weather.

In time I got to know that he was a chemist by profession but was working full time as a logistics officer for the movement. Ismail had gone to study pharmacy in Romania after having worked with Thabo Mbeki in London and formed the ANC Youth and Students Section.

But he never put his pharmacy skills to full use as he threw himself full time into the work of the ANC in London.

Ismail helped to run the ANC office and dealt with finance. Essop Pahad had worked with him in London, and said that he was a very reliable and honest comrade, and the ANC felt it could trust him with the finances at the London office.

“He knew no other life outside of the ANC and was a very committed and dedicated comrade,” Pahad told us.

For the time I was in London Ismail took care of my immediate needs and fortunately he was a resourceful person and problem solver, and trusted by our Treasurer General Thomas Nkobi.

Every time President OR Tambo was coming to London I accompanied comrade Ismail to fetch him at the airport and drive him to his home.

And this happened with most of the leadership and other comrades who experienced problems at the airport. We got well known by the immigration and customs officials. This was because I would know most of them. Ismail and I became very close, and we used to call him Mpandlane because of his bald head.

At a personal level he was very caring and made our lives comfortable. Some weekends he invited us to his house for lunch. We were staying at the ANC office in the flat at the top floor.

Since he worked most weekends we were very much in touch with him and he helped solve most of our logistical issues.

After he returned home to South Africa he became our Chief Representative to Malaysia. We spent time with him after he organised an inservice two week course in the Foreign Ministry. I had gone there with the late Yusuf Saloojee and Manala Manzini. It was a well structured and organised tour.

After we joined the Department of Foreign Affairs Ismail became South Africa's first High Commissioner to Pakistan, later Ambassador to Norway, and his last posting was to the State of Israel. He hated his presence there and towards the end he refused to cooperate with the Zionist Apartheid regime.

This he did against all persuasion and advice, and the Israelis knew it. He hated with a passion the crimes the Israelis continued to commit against the Palestinian people.

During an address in Tel Aviv on South Africa’s Freedom Day in April 2012, Coovadia reminded the Israeli government of the concern of his government about the lack of progress towards the two-state solution that South Africa supported.

“My minister, like others, has expressed her concern that the patience exercised by the people of Palestine is wearing out and there is mounting fear that hope will soon be replaced with hardened attitudes,” Coovadia had said.

After his retirement in 2013, Ismail denounced an announcement by the Israelis that 18 trees had been planted in his name in South Africa Forest, one of several diplomatic parks started by the multi-national Jewish National Fund.

"Regrettably, my permission was not sought to plant a tree in my or the name of a South African ambassador on usurped land; the rightful land of the Palestinians and Bedouins. I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of trees in my ''honour'' on expropriated and stolen land.

"In view of this inhuman act against ordinary people, I shall be returning the ''certificate'' to the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a humble request to remove the trees,” Coovadia said at the time.

Comrade Ismail passed on at the time that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had escalated the war against the Palestinian people. In Ismail, the Palestinians have lost the most valued friend and comrade. The best tribute we can pay to him is by intensifying our solidarity actions with Palestine.

As the Spokesperson of the ANC Pule Mabe has said in the wake of Ismail’s passing.

“As the apartheid Israeli regime continues with its campaign of brutality and forceful removals of Palestinians from their land, the best tribute we can pay, in honour of this son of the soil, is for the international community to put relentless pressure on the Israeli regime to stop its campaign of systematic repression and ruthless brutality against the people of Palestine."

Our movement has lost a gallant and principled cadre. No task was too small for him. Even with his health challenges he became active in the Stalwarts and Veterans collective. He will be dearly missed. We express our condolences to his dearest wife Suraya and his entire family.

Goodbye for now comrade Ismail. Lala ngoxolo, robala ka kgotso. Amandla!

* Ambassador Welile Nhlapo is a veteran of the ANC, and was South Africa's Ambassador to the US in 2007.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media

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