RIP Comrade Ebrahim Ebrahim (July 1, 1937- December 6, 2021)

Ebrahim Ebrahim, "Terror" Lekota, Harry Gwala, Nelson Mandela and Chris Hani at an ANC rally.
Ebrahim Ebrahim (left), "Terror" Lekota, Harry Gwala, Nelson Mandela and Chris Hani (right) at an ANC rally. Photo from Ebrahim Ebrahim: A Gentle Revolutionary.

Ebrahim Ebrehim was an exemplary comrade in the South African struggle for freedom, who until his death was a committed internationalist, in solidarity with the Kurdish and Palestinian freedom struggles. 

In 2017, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation published a short biography, Ebrahim Ebrahim: A Gentle Revolutionary, by his wife, journalist Shannon Ebrahim, where he is quoted saying:

“I have been involved in the struggle for liberation for over 36 years. I spent about half that period in prison. My life has been one struggle for peace and natural justice, for a common humanity and a struggle against the greatest evil of this century, the evil of racism.

“If I were to choose my life all over again I would follow the same path. I could never have remained indifferent to the poverty and suffering of our people.”

When Nelson Mandela offered Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan political asylum, Judge Essa Moosa, a people’s lawyer during the Anti-Apartheid struggle, was tasked by Mandela to ensure a smooth entry into South Africa.

When Ocalan was kidnapped in Kenya on his way to South Africa, Judge Moosa, together with other legal professionals, ANC parliamentarians, local Kurdish residents and some anti-apartheid activists decided to form the Kurdish Human Rights Action Group (KHRAG). Amongst the parliamentarians was Ebrahim

Ebrahim was elected a member of the National Assembly of Parliament in 1994. He was elected Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee and became a member of the Joint Select Committee on Intelligence.

Ebrahim resigned from Parliament in July 2002, to take up the position of the Senior Political and Economic Advisor to the Deputy President.

Between 2003 and 2009 Ebrahim was involved in numerous conflict resolution initiatives around the world. He was invited on a number of occasions to participate in Norway’s “Mediators Retreat”. Among the conflict arenas he has worked in Israel and Palestine, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Bolivia, Nepal, Madagascar, Burundi, the DRC, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, and the Central African Republic.

Ebrahim served as the ANC’s International Affairs Head from 2007 to 2009. In May 2009 he was appointed the Deputy Minister of International Relations, a position he held until 2014. He then served as the Parliamentary Counsellor to the President until 2019.

The President of South Africa awarded Ebrahim the military veteran’s decoration in Platinum in 2012 in recognition of his sacrifices made to bring about peace, democracy, and freedom in South Africa. Ebrahim was also a recipient of the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award from the President of India in 2013 for exceptionalism in his field and bringing prestige to India. Ebrahim was also bestowed Spain’s highest honor from King Felipe VI – the Order of Civil Merit – a knighthood at the rank of Knight Commander in 2015.

Having been an active internationalist for most of his life, he was delegated by the ANC to chair the Parliamentary commission on International Relations. In this capacity he was involved rights-based struggles and peace initiatives across the globe, in particular in the Kurdish and Palestinian struggles.

I first met Ebrahim in 2010 in the waiting room of the office of the Provincial Cabinet minister for whom I was working at the time. He was by then a well-known “name” throughout the ANC so I was dumbfounded when the minister called me to ask me to meet and chat with “Ebie” (as he was known to friends and comrades) while he concluded his meeting with someone else. Would I have anything to say to this famous comrade? But I was immediately put at ease by Ebie when I walked into the room; his smile, warm greeting and humble demeanor is something that I’ll remember for as long as I live.

I joined KHRAG at the beginning of 2014, when Ebie and Moosa invited Kurdish representatives to Cape Town to meet with members of parliament and local community based organizations. It was out of those meetings that I was asked to do a photographic report of the refugees from the siege of Kobane by Daesh – there were then about 300,000 refugees in the Sanliurfa province.

During the period 2014 – 2019 I only had contact with him when he facilitated a group of Kurdish women to come to a major international women’s conference in Cape Town at the end of August 2016. KHRAG held a mini pre-conference for its members, reported .

Ironically, COVID enabled KHRAG executive members to meet with him more often by Zoom in the period beginning February 2020. Sadly, he fell seriously ill later that year.

[Sidney Luckett is a South African Kurdish solidarity activist, photographer and a veteran of the anti-Apartheid movement.]