Beyond Fear – Ebrahim Ebrahim

2 June 2022

A book review by Kirtan Bhana

What lies beyond fear? Ebrahim Ebrahim’s autobiography, Beyond Fear – Reflections of a Freedom Fighter, certainly provides answers. Love is the central emotion of all true revolutionaries; it is a composition of unwavering commitment, resolute loyalty, unflinching courage and determination to triumph. For those South Africans that actively resisted the brutal onslaught of the apartheid crime against humanity and those that succumbed to the cowardly and manipulative actions of the regime, this book will fill many gaps that were lost in the misinformation, disinformation and character assassination campaigns that sought to demoralise the fight for freedom.

The story of Ebrahim Ebrahim’s life is of overcoming the hardships of daily existence, of indulging in simple pleasures of family and friends and a deep connection to his grandmother Sarah. So attached was he to Sarah that he lived and grew up in her home instead of living with his own parents. This may have been an early indication of the extra ordinary person and life journey that Ebrahim was to embark on.

Born in the South African coastal city of Durban in 1937 at the cusp of the beginning of World War II, he lived through a volatile period of the transformation of the world until his death in December 2021. He lived to the age of 84. Considering the life he lived, the death of his grandmother when he was 14, becoming a member of the liberation movement in his teens, the harassment, unlawful incarceration and the inhumanity of torture, is a testament to his resilience and to his profound faith.

One learns from his writing that there were diverse perspectives, opinions and even activism against the oppression and injustices meted out by the Nationalist regime, but the goal of attaining freedom was the common desire and outcome. Gora Ebrahim, his brother, was a high ranking member of the Pan African Congress (PAC) and Ebrahim Ebrahim was a founding member of uMkontho we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

Ebrahim arrived at the notorious prison on Robben Island off the coast of the picturesque city of Cape Town a few months before the arrival of the famous convicted Rivonia accused which included Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Ebrahim gives a graphic account of the conditions of his imprisonment, but also relates how they won small battles for dignity and improved conditions for the inmates.

The smoke and mirrors, cloak and dagger life in the underground is honestly depicted, stripping away any notion of heroics and glamour. 1955 and 1994 are the poignant years for Ebrahim, but he says his life began at 70.

His torturers once remarked, “if you live through this then you are not human”. It was a contradiction in terms because it is a true reflection of the strength of the human spirit that allows you to overcome any adversity and the knowing that it is in forgiving that you find true freedom.