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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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Book Extract: Beyond Fear - Reflections of a freedom fighter

Ebrahim Ebrahim with former president Nelson Mandela after his release from Robben Island in 1991. Picture: SUPPLIED.

Ebrahim Ebrahim with former president Nelson Mandela after his release from Robben Island in 1991. Picture: SUPPLIED.

Published May 3, 2022


In this second published excerpt from Beyond Fear, Ebrahim Ebrahim’s long-awaited autobiography, he recounts the horrific story of his kidnapping by apartheid intelligence agents from his underground home in Swaziland in December 1986. At the time, the apartheid regime considered him one of the most wanted ANC commanders operating from the frontline states, and for months, he had been hunted by apartheid hit squads.


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It was a hot summer morning with bright sunshine pouring in through the window. From there, I could see the hills of Pine Valley, the surrounding mountains and green pastures, as well as the river flowing through. This was Umgugu Reserve near Mbabane, in Swaziland, where many of our ANC cadres sought refuge. This was where I had stayed in hiding for nearly two years. The tranquillity of the valley shielded many of our armed combatants, and its beauty was the backdrop for clandestine meetings with cadres from home.

I was exhausted after a night of meetings that had started at about nine and ended at four the next morning. As the chairperson of the RPMC, I had called together the commanders of various units to get their end-of-year reports. I also wanted insight into their plans of action for 1987. Among those present were Gebuza, Paul Dikeledi and Thami Zulu.

When the meeting ended, we all dispersed. I left for home at the crack of dawn and then tried to get a little sleep. Not long after I put my head down, I heard the phone ring. Very few people knew my number, and when the phone rang, it was usually a case of a dire emergency. I was taken aback by the sound of the phone so early in the day. I immediately recognised the voice of Lindiwe Sisulu, a very special comrade, the daughter of our leaders Walter and Albertina Sisulu. Although she was part of MK, Lindiwe was lecturing at the Manzini Teacher Training College at the time. She was so bright. We shared a love of history, which was the subject in which she had earned her honours and master’s degrees.

‘Are you OK?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘What’s wrong?’

The concern in her voice had my heart beating faster.

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‘Haven’t you heard?’ she asked, and then she told me the SADF’s Special Forces had raided some of our comrades’ homes during the night. They had entered Swaziland seemingly with impunity and, we suspected, with the assistance of some hostile elements in Swaziland itself. Among those abducted were Swiss nationals Corinne Bischoff and Daniel Schneider, who were working in Swaziland. The soldiers blew their front door open with explosives, forced them out of their house, and threw them into a police van with a few other people.

That weekend, Pik Botha, the South African minister of foreign affairs, defended the kidnapping of what he called ‘terrorists.’ He maintained South Africa had the right to defend itself. The Swazi government remained silent, but the Swiss government strongly protested against the kidnapping of its citizens. Thanks to the pressure the Swiss exerted, Corinne and Daniel were released within two days and transported back to Swaziland by helicopter.

In another attack, they killed a thirteen-year-old boy who ran out of his home in panic when they bombed it. In that assault, they kidnapped a Swazi national in what they later acknowledged was a case of ‘mistaken identity’. A family and a community had lost a beloved child. We grieved for their loss.

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As for my comrade Shadrack Maphumulo, I still don’t have the words to express my outrage. He was a registered refugee in Swaziland and lived with his family in a block of flats in Matsapha, a working-class area near the town of Manzini. A disciplined, dedicated cadre with a sound theoretical mind who argued for the emancipation of the poor and the working class, he was among the co-accused in my 1963 trial. Comrade Shadrack served ten years with me on Robben Island.

I feel uncomfortable giving such a graphic description of his fate, but I cannot otherwise express the horror of that night. The South African soldiers raided his flat by blowing open the door. They then shot him in the stomach in front of his children, and dragged his bleeding body down a flight of stairs, and threw him into the boot of their vehicle. By the time they crossed into South Africa, Shadrack had already died from blood loss. The rest of the victims were blindfolded and their hands tied behind their backs.

Corinne told us later that she could feel a dead body ‘knocking against her’ as the soldiers drove away at high speed. I suppose we can’t imagine the precise sensation, but we can understand the terror that everyone in that army vehicle must have experienced at that moment.

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I tried to gather as much information as I could, first establishing that the commanders who had been with me the previous night were safe. I rang Jacob Zuma in Maputo to tell him about the raid and especially about Shadrack – a very close friend of us both – but I battled to have a conversation. I broke down and wept.

On Monday, 15 December, I was in my house, which I regarded as ‘safe’, as very few people knew about it. At about nine-thirty, while I was watching TV, there was a knock at the door. Dumisane Zwane, a seventeen-year-old Swazi teenager who had been living with me and doing work in the garden, went to answer, thinking it must be the neighbours. There were two black men on the doorstep who claimed they needed a wheel spanner as their car had broken down. I fetched my keys and went to my car outside. When I was about to open the boot to assist them, one of them drew a gun. They threatened to shoot me if I moved or made a sound. I knew there was no escape. They ushered me back into the house.

One held a gun to my forehead while the other tied my hands behind my back and blindfolded and gagged me. They also tied Dumisane’s hands and feet and put him on the floor. In the freedom struggle, you were prepared for all sorts of danger, which perhaps explains my calmness as this ordeal was taking place. (1056)

Book cover of Ebrahim Ebrahim’s book “Beyond Fear: Reflections of a Freedom Fighter”

*** Join Shannon Ebrahim, partner of the late Ebrahim Ebrahim, and other panelists at any of the launches below. There'll be one close to you!


* AB Moosa, CEO of Avalon Group, in discussion with Shannon Ebrahim, Ronnie Kasrils, Former Minister of Intelligence Services of South Africa and MK Veteran, and Yunis Shaik, former trade unionist, member of uMkhonto weSizwe, lawyer and currently CEO of eTV Holdings

Date: Thursday 5 May

Time: 18:30

Venue: CineCentre Killarney, Killarney Mall, Johannesburg

* Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria in discussion with Shannon Ebrahim, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor, Professor Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria and Dr Sithembile Mbete, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Sciences and Director of Programmes at Futurelect

Date: Monday 16 May

Time: 16:30

Venue: Future Africa Space, University of Pretoria, Pretoria

* Siphamandla Zondi, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Johannesburg, in discussion with Shannon Ebrahim and Yasmin Sooka, Human Rights Lawyer and former Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa

Date: Monday 30 May

Time: 15:00

Venue: Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg

* Joanne Joseph, broadcaster and award-winning author, in discussion with Shannon Ebrahim and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs of South Africa

Date: Thursday 9 June

Time: 18:00

Venue: Exclusive Books Hyde Park, Johannesburg


Gcina Mhlope, activist, actor, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author, in discussion with Shannon Ebrahim and Sunny Singh, Treasurer of the Military Committee in Maputo, Robben Island prisoner, member of uMkhonto weSizwe and ANC Representative in Holland

Date: Saturday 14 May

Time: 14:00

Venue: South Africa in the Making, Shop 7, Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban


Siraj Desai, Human Rights Lawyer and retired Western Cape High Court Judge, in discussion with Shannon Ebrahim, Albie Sachs, acclaimed author and former justice of the first constitutional court of South Africa, and Yunis Shaik, former trade unionist, member of uMkhonto weSizwe, lawyer and currently CEO of eTV Holdings

Date: Saturday 4 June

Time: 18:00

Venue: District Six Museum Homecoming Centre, Cape Town

To RSVP for one of the launches above, please contact [email protected] Please indicate the launch you are RSVPing for by including the venue in the subject line.

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