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 and further afield, 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 (“Justice head gives back to his community”, Southern Mail, May 25 2016) where 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 parliamentarian, 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 (“Office to bring Parliament to the people”, Southern Mail, November 27, 2019).

Ashfak 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 said after their father died 18 years ago Hishaam 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.

See page 2 for some of the tributes to Advocate Hishaam Mohamed