Remembering a people’s advocate

Tributes have poured in for Advocate Hishaam Mohamed.

Advocate Hishaam Mohamed, 55, has been remembered as a human rights activist as well as a “people’s advocate” who leaves a legacy of having served the community 24/7.

Around the city, the news of
Mr Mohamed’s death was met with shock.

The African National Congress (ANC) Member of Parliament (MP), died of a heart attack, on the afternoon of Monday August 24, with tributes streaming in as the news of his death spread.

His janazah (funeral) took place at his Pinelands home, on Tuesday August 25, at 12:30pm.

Due to lockdown regulations, only the family had been allowed to attend the funeral. However, parliament hosted a live Zoom gathering where anyone could join in and watch ANC comrades pay tribute to him.

ANC national assembly chief whip, Pemmy Majodina, said
Mr Mohamed, a member of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services and Whip of the ANC Study Group on Justice and Correctional Services, had “committed himself to the task of ensuring that justice is served fairly, without fear or favour”.

“We will always cherish the lessons he shared with us from his well of knowledge and experience,” she said.

Mr Mohamed’s quest for justice started when he was still a young boy. He attended Perivale Primary School, in Lotus River, and Wittebome High School, in Wynberg, where he became a political activist.

He later joined the United Democratic Movement (UDM), which was launched in Mitchell’s Plain in 1983, and in 1985 he was detained for three weeks on charges of public violence during a protest against the arrest of anti-apartheid activist Trevor Manuel.

It was his time in detention which prompted him to study law.

He said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela.

He enrolled to study law at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in 1987, and he completed his B.Iuris degree in 1990, and his LLB degree in 1993.

Mr Mohamed became a temporary clerk at the Athlone Magistrate’s Court in 1990 and in 1993 was subsequently appointed as a prosecutor at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court.

His brother Ashfak Mohamed said Mr Mohamed was “the ultimate professional in his work environment and changed the face of justice in South Africa”.

“He had set the example as the Regional Head of Justice and Constitutional Development in the Western Cape for over 20 years, and then as an ANC Member of Parliament since the 2019 elections.”

As a member of Parliament, Mr Mohamed had one foot in parliament while continuing to serve his community on the ground. He was instrumental in the launch of a parliamentary constituency office with the aim of bringing the government to the people in the southern suburbs.

Ashfak Mohamed said his brother set a benchmark for MPs to get involved in the community and seek out their challenges. “He was an exemplary part of parliament and we hope that MPs would follow his vision.”

He has been hailed as a “people’s advocate”, “champion for the poor’, “human rights activist” and “servant of the people”, and all those descriptions certainly ring true, he added.

“His main purpose was to serve the people, the most vulnerable in society (particularly women and children), in the hope of making a positive impact in their lives, whether it was through effectively implementing and creating legislation, providing access to justice, and assisting with legal or private matters for over three decades – leaving an indelible mark on society as a whole.” 

In August the free Southern Suburbs Legal Advice Centre (SSLAC), founded by Mr Mohamed, partnered with the ANC Parliamentary Constituency Office (PCO) to launch its Women’s Month programme on how to use the law as a tool against gender-based violence and femicide.

The programme comprises a series of pre-recorded videos to empower participants to protect themselves and fight against gender-based violence.

He also hosted soup kitchens, and organised food parcels and sanitary care-packs for people in the poorest areas of the Southern Suburbs like Lotus River, Parkwood, Ottery, Overkamp/Cafda, New Horizons, Phumlani Village, Lavender Hill, Masiphumelele, Vrygrond, Ocean View, Westlake and Simon’s Town (Redhill) during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Ashfak Mohamed said after their father died 18 years ago he became the family’s father figure. “We have also been dealing with the recent death of our sister Shanaaz, following a long illness, while our mother, Hamida Mohamed, passed away in 1990.

He was fiercely protective of his family, especially his siblings, wife Rachmat and children Imraan, Haneem and Uzair,” he added.

His brother, Saliem Mohamed, said the family was devastated by the loss of Mr Mohamed, to whom everyone went for advice, both professionally and personally.

“He was a voice of reason, always providing sage words when it was most needed.

Saliem Mohamed said his brother’s main priority was to advocate for the poor, to teach them their rights and continue to empower women and children by giving legal advice, creating legislation and helping communities to implement it.

“He touched so many lives across the spectrum – whether you were living in a shack in a township or a mansion in Constantia, he would treat you in the same humble, meticulous manner,” he said.

Saliem Mohamed also acknowledged, on behalf of the family, all the messages and calls of condolence and support.

“We thank the media and commentators for their coverage and tributes as well. Hishaam truly lived up to his public titles of Advocate and Honourable (as an MP). May his legacy be felt across the length and breadth of Mzansi,” he said.

ANC Western Cape secretary Faiez Jacobs, said that his path crossed with that of Mr Mohamed in the 1980s during community activist demonstrations. “He made an effort to educate the marginalised and women and children about their rights and he used the law to empower his community. He was a prominent figure, well respected and an extremely hard worker who thought nothing of putting in a 15-hour day. He made many sacrifices for his family and his community and he advocated for justice until the end,” said Mr Jacobs.

He added that advocate Mohamed had enjoyed rugby, spending time with his family, and while he was serious, also had a great sense of humour once you got to know him.

“Fond memories of when we would travel up the West Coast to the Overberg to educate our people come to mind. He was really a people’s person. He created a space for abused women and children and made sure that fathers were to be held liable for child maintenance and not just zip their pants and leave. He made sure that men were accountable for their children and the up keeping of them,” he said.

Chairman of Masjidul Quds in Gatesville, Sataar Parker, said that the community had lost a stalwart who had been determined to fight for justice for the poor which he felt still needed much work in South Africa.

“He became highly involved with mosque outreach programmes and other community-based projects. He believed in getting things done and doing them properly. He will be remembered for reconstructing the justice system and always being willing to stand up for the poor and create a change in their lives. We miss him dearly, may he be granted a high abode, his legacy will live on,” said Mr Parker.

Second deputy president of the Muslim Judicial Council, Sheikh Riad Fataar, said described Advocate Mohamed as “a friend of the MJC and a servant of the people”.

“His contribution to the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa will not be forgotten. We express our sincere condolences to his beloved family. May the Almighty grant them sabr and contentment in this difficult time and grant the deceased a high place in Jannah.”