Hailed as an inspirational, unsung hero who walked at the forefront of South Africa’s revolutionary struggle, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim was celebrated and praised at an online birthday party held in his honour on Thursday evening.
More than 190 comrades, family and friends of the man known affectionately as “Ebie” gathered online to celebrate his 84th birthday.
Addressing all those who attended the Zoom party, Ebrahim said he remained committed to the liberation movement and the ANC, of which he became a member as a teenager.
Ebrahim said his age and illness would never deter him from doing “whatever was correct”.
Ebrahim joined the liberation movement as a youth activist in 1952 and participated in the Congress of the People Campaign which led to the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955. He was active in all the campaigns of the 1950s, and after the banning of the ANC in 1960, joined Umkhonto We Sizwe in 1961.
He was arrested in 1963 along with 18 others and was listed as accused number one in the Pietermaritzburg sabotage trial in 1964.
He was sentenced to 15 years on Robben Island for his role as an MK commander blowing up targets of the apartheid state.
He was released in 1979, and was banned and restricted to his home town of Durban. In 1980, he went into exile in Swaziland and headed the ANC's political-military committee which gave leadership to the underground ANC cells in South Africa.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu remembered the time they shared in Swaziland when they worked together.
Sisulu said it was at the “most gruesome time of the struggle”, when they would hear of constant kidnappings and killings.
“Ebie is a down-to-earth and committed comrade. Ebie makes me so proud to be ANC. He is one of those people whose lives should be put out there and our children should be taught that this is what being a member of the ANC means,” Sisulu said.
She said the party was “not like what it used to be”, and it would be an incredible organisation if everyone took a leaf from Ebrahim’s character.
Sisulu shared a memory of the night Ebrahim was kidnapped by South African intelligence officials in Swaziland, who illegally smuggled him across the border back into South Africa.
Sisulu said they allowed him to speak to her before taking him across the border in the hope that he would share secrets of the organisation.But Sisulu said he contacted her to request she take care of a young boy who worked in the garden and was preparing to write his matric exams.
“I think, here is a man who doesn’t know whether he is going to get shot in the next two minutes, and all he can think about is this young man who is supposed to write his exams, and him being away would disrupt his entire life.
“I just couldn’t stop crying … because he is just an incredible person,” Sisulu said.
After his kidnapping in Swaziland, Ebrahim was sentenced to a further 20 years in prison for high treason.
But in 1991 the Appeal Court ruled that his kidnapping from a foreign country was illegal and that the South African court had no jurisdiction to try him. He was subsequently released from prison in early 1991.
Ebrahim shared a cell with former president Jacob Zuma on Robben Island. He was also one of the confidants in Nelson Mandela’s inner circle, where political developments and the eventual negotiations with the former apartheid government were discussed, leading to Mandela’s historic release.
Grandson of the first democratically elected president and Mvezo chief Mandla Mandela saluted Ebrahim for his contribution to South Africa’s democracy.
“You have lived through the most trying times since your childhood and yet continue to carry yourself with dignity, sobriety and a gentle calm.
“In the view of my grandfather, any reference he made on your name would always be qualified with great admiration, when he said ‘Comrade Ebie understands the policies of our movement’.
“Your legacy is one that we shall remember and turn to,” Mandla said.