Veteran struggle stalwart Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim Picture: Shannon Ebrahim

Pretoria - As South Africa celebrates heritage month, veteran struggle stalwart Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim has called on those who struggled against apartheid to share their stories with the next generation. 

“It is time that we look beyond our own lives and careers, and take a little time to share with the children of our country what the struggle was all about,” Ebrahim said following an address he made to Grade 4-7 learners at St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls in Pretoria.

Ebrahim, a former political prisoner who spent 20 years on Robben Island, was invited to address the primary school girls on what the conditions were like on Robben Island in the 1960s and 70s, as part of heritage month celebrations.

The girls, most of whom had never met a former Robben Islander before, were riveted by stories of how prisoners were made to chip stones all day and study by night for university degrees through Unisa. The fact that prisoners showered in cold brackish water in the middle of winter off the Cape Town mainland, and had to sleep on the cement floor on sisal mats with 60 and sometimes 80 to a cell, was something many hadn’t contemplated before.

“Discrimination wasn’t only in our society, but even on the island itself,” Ebrahim told the girls. “Black prisoners would be given one teaspoon of sugar in their porridge and were forced to wear short pants throughout the winter, while Indian prisoners got two spoons of sugar in their porridge and were issued long pants.”

“Having Ebrahim talk to the girls in person made the experience more real for them rather than just reading the history from a textbook,” a DSG teacher remarked after the event.

Just as former struggle stalwart and Rivonia trialist Dennis Goldberg had made a point of regularly addressing school children about the struggle against apartheid, Ebrahim has committed himself to do the same.

“Some of our children don’t know what the anti-apartheid movement was all about, and why we struggled so hard in this country. They have been born into a country where all citizens are free and equal and discrimination is against our constitution.”

“It is important for them to know that our freedom didn’t come easily and they must understand the depth of our history in order to safeguard our hard won freedoms.”

Ebrahim has called on all those veterans who spent time in apartheid’s prisons and were active in the struggle against apartheid to dedicate one hour of their time during the remainder of this calendar year to addressing primary school learners about their experiences.

“We must all take it up as our personal responsibility to ensure that our history stays alive in the minds of the next generation. If each one of us took the time to address schools in this country, our children will have a renewed appreciation for the struggle. It will also remind us of the principles we fought for,” Ebrahim said.

Independent Foreign Service