Hassen Ebrahim’s memoir titled From Marabastad to Mogadishu– The Journey of an ANC Soldier is perhaps the clearest retelling of South Africa’s ANC militant past. He is able to transport the reader to the world of the ANC’s underground business.
He begins by describing a childhood in the “township” of Marabastad in Pretoria, and emotionally yet accurately describes the forced removals that led his community to Laudium, his schooling and family life. He describes a non-political childhood, but by the time Ebrahim makes his way to Botswana to be counselled by ANC exiles Marius and Jenny Schoon, the story takes a heavily militaristic turn. From recruitment to military training, building bombs and being bombed.
His story follows the untold history of Indian South Africans involved in the ANC. Ebrahim was responsible for setting up multiple underground units and orchestrating pro-Democracy propaganda and education initiatives. Given the militancy its difficult to imagine that he went from foot solider to chief executive of the elected Constitutional Assembly which wrote the constitution, served in the department of justice and eventually for the United Nations. He did it all with the same concentrated excellence required of a soldier.
What I found most interesting was Ebrahim’s strained family relations and the dynamics of being both an MK soldier, a recruited and armed member of the ANC, and a part of a conservative community. Later his strained marriage. His struggle was not just against the monster of the Apartheid government, but also against his own desire and ambition.
This is an important read in a time when Indian South Africans are experiencing increased racism from politicians and ordinary citizens alike. We need to read and understand the history of Indians in South Africa and the active participation of Indians in the fight for democracy.
From Marabastad to Mogadishu stands out in other ways too. It stands in absolute contradiction to the corruption and state capture characteristic of the ANC today. Ebrahim’s sincerity and passion for justice are not uncommon amongst comrades of the old ANC. As Mac Maharaj says in the introduction to the book: “ The memoir by Hassen Ebrahim, helps us interrogate that past, appreciate the knowledge and skills we developed both in the struggle to overthrow apartheid and the pursuit post-1994 of a programme of reconstruction and nation-building.”
Hassen Ebrahim’s memoir is a definite staple for anyone wanting to see the ANC’s military wing from an insider’s view.