In Judgement of Ebrahim Ebrahim

By Zubeida Jaffer

Rudolf Mastenbroek seeks to discredit the tortured and not write about the torturers and askaris that journalist and author, Jacob Dlamini writes about so sensitively in his latest book Askari.

In a Sunday Times article (Nov 16) entitled “How do you tell a man that his courage has run out?” he denigrates the guest speaker at the launch, Ebrahim Ebrahim. It’s indeed very strange that a writer who says his grandfather emigrated from Holland in 1952 after being ostracized as a suspected Nazi sympathizer stands in judgement of a man who has fearlessly fought for the freedom of all South Africans.

Besides being a journalist, I am a friend and admirer of Ebrahim Ebrahim and thought I would be doing him and the public an injustice if I did not point out the superficiality of the Mastenbrook article. It communicates a prejudice that is deeply offensive.

When Mastenbrook’s grandfather arrived in South Africa, Ebrahim was already an anti-apartheid activist and a decade later was one of the first members of Umkhonto we Sizwe to be arrested and imprisoned for 15 years on Robben Island. After serving his sentence, he led the ANC underground structures based in Swaziland, from where he was kidnapped in 1986 by the Apartheid National Intelligence Services.

Ebrahim was thrown into the boot of a car and brought back to South Africa where he was severely tortured, stood trial for treason, and was sentenced to a further 20 years on Robben Island. During interrogation, one of his comrades had turned askari and helped the security police to interrogate him. Dlamini records the story of Glory Sedibe who was the askari. Back on Robben Island, Ebrahim served 6 years of this sentence and was released in 1991 when he won his appeal.

All in all he served 20 years in prison. Come now, Mr Mastenbroek, given what he has been through, I am not surprised that he sees his experiences in black and white. Do many of the Nazi victims not also rightly choose to do so?

Ebrahim has been a member of parliament for 15 years, and for the past five years Deputy Minister of International Relations in the Zuma cabinet. Not even those who worked for warmonger heads of states such as George Bush Junior and Margaret Thatcher are similarly pilloried (and Mrs Thatcher’s son orchestrated a coup in Equitorial Guinea. Imagine that.)

Ebrahim has demonstrated courage all his life. Perhaps it is time that you and others who have benefitted from his courage and live a good life in South Africa make some sacrifices yourselves instead of expecting more from a man who has given us his best years. What sacrifices are you making for the good of the people of South Africa, Mr Mastenbroek?

An edited version of this letter has appeared in the Sunday Times. See the article which follows on the Evil of Banalities.


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