Gora Ebrahim 


AwaaZ, Volume 6, Issue 1- 2009, had chronicled some of the Indian
activists who participated in the anti-apartheid struggle in South
Africa. The following obituary by Chris Barron was published by the
Sunday Times of South Africa on 5 December, 1999; and gives us an
insight into Gora Ebrahim's central role in the PAC and his ultimate
disillusionment with the party.


Gora Ebrahim: 1936 - 1999
For almost 30 years Gora Ebrahim, who has died in his Berea,
Johannesburg, flat at the age of 63, articulated the policies and vision
of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) with unrivalled eloquence. But when
he left the PAC five months ago to join the ANC the only surprise was
that he didn't do it sooner. 

Born in Durban on May 29, 1936, Ebrahim cut his political teeth in
Trotskyite circles as a student at Sastri College, Natal University and
Wits. He joined the PAC in 1957 and went into exile in 1963, returning
to South Africa after the unbanning of the organisation in 1990. He was
the PAC's chief representative in Egypt, Iraq, China and Zimbabwe, and
at the United Nations in New York. He subsequently became secretary of
foreign affairs for the organisation, based in Dar es Salaam in

It is no great exaggeration to say that for a lot of this time Ebrahim
was all that stood between the PAC and extinction. For many years there
was a concerted international campaign to withdraw recognition from the
organisation as a liberation movement in favour of treating the ANC as
the only representative of the oppressed masses of South Africa. 

If this had happened, and it was a near thing, the PAC would have been
excluded from the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of African
Unity and the UN, among other international platforms. Ebrahim fought
tooth and nail to maintain recognition for the movement, using his
considerable debating skills to argue that it was not for outsiders to
choose a liberation movement for the people of South Africa. When the
time came, they would choose for themselves, he said. 

Ebrahim did more than anyone to persuade the Scandinavian countries,
most notably, that the PAC was an organisation of sufficient credibility
to warrant the material support they provided, and without which it
could not have survived. He did this largely through the force of his
own personality, intellect, eloquence and sophistication.

Before Ebrahim went to Beijing under the auspices of the Afro-Asian
Journalists Association in the late '60s, during the Cultural
Revolution, China knew little about South Africa and nothing at all
about the PAC. His intellectual analysis of the situation and astute
marketing of PAC strategy was lapped up by Mao Tse Tung, and opened the
doors to aid from China. When frequent internal bickering and power
struggles made donor countries doubt the wisdom of their support for the
PAC, it was Ebrahim who, working through his impressive network of
foreign contacts, contained the damage. In so far as the PAC projected
an image to the outside world of unity and purpose, it did so through
the person of Ebrahim. In short, he was the PAC's lifeline to the
international community. 

While serving as the PAC's chief representative at the UN the esteem
accorded him in international diplomatic circles helped the organisation
rally more support for certain causes it took up than might otherwise
have been the case. Its success in mobilising support for the
'Sharpeville Six', sentenced to death under a common purpose ruling for
the death of a person killed during unrest in the Vaal Triangle, is a
case in point. Due mostly to Ebrahim's powers of persuasion even
Margaret Thatcher agreed to take a personal interest in their fate, and
their sentence was commuted. 

Ebrahim helped form the South Africa Non Racial Olympic Committee in the
early '60s, and became acting president when co-founder Dennis Brutus
was arrested and jailed. Never were his debating skills put to more
effective use than in the way he rallied the international community
behind the anti-South African sports boycott, opposing apartheid was not
yet as fashionable as it became, and the early response to the campaign
he initiated and pursued for some time virtually single-handed was not
welcoming. Eventually the boycott became one of the sharpest thorns in
South Africa's side and succeeded spectacularly in persuading whites to
support F W de Klerk's proposal to negotiate an end to apartheid. 

Ebrahim's value to the PAC did not make his position in the organisation
as secure as one might have supposed. During a particularly major
internal ruction in the mid-70s he was obliged to leave Tanzania
hurriedly after a fall-out with the acting President, Potlako Kitchener
Leballo. He was never able to determine whether his expulsion was the
work of the Tanzanian government or at the behest of the PAC itself. 

With his French wife, whom he had met in China while she was working as
a translator, and his two Tanzanian-born children, he went to Iraq and
became editor of the Baghdad Observer, English daily. Somewhat
improbably, given the reason for his presence there, he became the PAC's
chief representative in the capital and stayed for around five years,
raising its profile in Iraq as well as important financial support. 

The seeds of Ebrahim's ultimate disillusionment with the PAC were
planted shortly after the organisation's return, after its unbanning, to
South Africa. His problems were chiefly 'it's refusal to end the armed
struggle, ditch its rabble-rousing slogans which he believed had been
overtaken by events, and commit to negotiations'. Its withdrawal from
the Patriotic Front it had formed with the ANC and Azapo, and its
on-off-on-again attitude to Codesa (Convention for a Democratic South
Africa), where he was a key member of its negotiating team, upset him.
Honed by his wide travels, frequent contact with ambassadors around the
world and his experience at the UN, his thinking by this time
transcended what he increasingly felt was a limited, dogmatic party line
out of touch with new realities. 

Ebrahim saw sharply that continuing to characterise the nature of
oppression as colonial racism was making the PAC as racist in its own
way as the racism it sought to replace. He believed the new challenge
was how best to translate its policy of Africanism - always the core of
his loyalty to the PAC - into a meaningful force in the post-apartheid
era. He wanted a broad, open-ended Africanism to replace what he felt
was the PAC's narrow, nationalistic version which no longer served the

For him, Thabo Mbeki's talk of African renaissance was the language of
PAC founder Robert Sobukwe. He believed it paved the way for a merger
between the PAC and ANC. Being on the periphery of PAC power play, his
attempts to change its thinking led to his marginalisation by more
extremist elements in the party until, after the 1999 elections, he lost
his seat in Parliament. His growing disaffection with the party was
reflected in his decision to take a holiday in Harare during the PAC's
local government election campaign two years previously, and his
negligible role during its run-up to the general elections. 

He believed his skills were wasted on a party he saw going nowhere, and
could be better used as an ambassador in Africa where he had close
friendships with many leaders. The government agreed, and had pencilled
his name in as a future ambassador when he died of a suspected heart

He leaves a wife, Xaviere, son, Yasir (named after his friend Yasser
Arafat), and daughter, Zareena. 





Mduduzi Sibeko

011 724 9298




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