UNIVERSITY of the Western Cape (UWC) presented its first Gold Medal for Commitment to Community Service to well-known historian from Strand, Mr Ebrahim Rhoda.
The award, presented by the vice-chancellor and rector of UWC, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, at a ceremony on December 14, 2018, was in recognition of Rhoda’s involvement in numerous social upliftment programmes in the Strand community over the past 60 years.
Rhoda’s nomination was supported by Shaikh Thafier Najjaar, president of Islamic Council of South Africa (ICSA), the late Moulana Ighsaan Hendricks as president of the MJC and Shaikh Faadil Latief, representing the Strand community.
In 1966, Rhoda, as part of a community delegation, negotiated for the four separate Muslim congregations in Strand to successfully merge as the Strand Moslem Council (SMC) to administer the religious, educational, financial and cultural affairs of the area.
The Group Areas Act forced many families to move to Macassar in the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1980, he assisted Muslims of the area to form the Macassar Moslem Council (MMC).
Rhoda, as treasurer, embarked on a fundraising drive to purchase land and build a mosque, and, in 1992, Masjidus Saa’biereen (The mosque of the patient ones) was completed.
Along with others, he launched the first ever photographic exhibition of the area, on Heritage Day, in 1996, depicting various facets of the community: fishermen, imams, mosques, cultural organisations, religious events, rugby and cricket teams, families, and women and their roles.
In 2002, with other researchers, the Cape Family Research Forum (CFRF) was established to encourage people to research their genealogy and, in particular, the slave roots.
Many families were enlisted through the annual festivals of the community radio station Voice of the Cape.
Remarkably, in retirement, after more than 30 years of teaching, he enrolled for a master’s degree through the University of the Western Cape’s Recognition for Prior Learning (RPL) programme.
In 2006, he was awarded the Division for Lifelong Learning (DLL) Senior Award by UWC after completing his MA degree cum laude, at the age of 68.
In 2009, Rhoda received the Western Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Award in the heritage category.
He is the author of three books: From Slavery to Citizenship: a walk through the history of a Strand community (2011), The Strand Muslim Community: 1822 – 1966 An Historical Overview (2014) and The Wentzels: a pioneering family of the Muslim Community of the Strand (2018).
He has also presented a weekly programme on radio, entitled ‘Roots – unveiling our heritage’.
He has delivered two conference papers on his research at Hasanuddin University, in Indonesia, and was a guest speaker at the 4th Convention of Indonesian Diaspora at the invitation of the consul-general of Indonesia.
He delivered a lecture on the Wentzel family, at the Genealogy Open Day of the Dutch Reformed Church, and presented the keynote address at the National Archives Awareness Week Launch, in March 2018.
Professor Faadiel Essop, of the Department of Physiological Sciences at Stellenbosch University, in paying tribute to Rhoda, pointed to the assistance he received with the project at the kramat, in Faure.
‘He is an amazing person to work with and I find him very inspirational; somebody I would like to follow as a role model.’
Professor of Islamic Studies at University of Notre Dame, in the United States, Ebrahim Moosa, recognised Rhoda as a pioneer in documenting local history who deserved recognition for his service to the community of Strand and Macassar.
Professor Moosa recalled with fondness his days at Strand Moslem Primary School, where Rhoda was his teacher. ‘I can still recall the passion and energy you brought to the teaching profession.’
Offering best wishes on behalf of Claremont Main Road Masjid, Imam Dr Abdul Rashied Omar prayed for Rhoda’s good health to continue to do research and writing about the Muslim community in the Cape. He added that Rhoda was an inspiration and embodied the hadith where the Prophet (SAW) says, ‘Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.’
One of the researchers who worked with Rhoda on one his earliest projects, Professor Susan Newton-King, an academic at UWC, said that Rhoda stood out among the group of students for his ‘explosive talent for research’ during the slave roots project.
‘You came to research the slave roots of your own family but in the process you uncovered a whole community at the Strand with its roots in Cape slavery on the surrounding farms.
‘You have restored a past which had been forgotten but, beyond that, you have given the research back to the people you have been writing about, and you have used the proceeds from the sales of your books and pamphlets to fund members of the community, especially widows of imams from the Strand. It’s an act of huge dedication and generosity and I can only honour you.’
At the age of 80, Ebrahim Rhoda has no intention of slowing down his genealogical research and community involvement, giving true meaning to the phrase ‘born to serve’.