Ebrahim Carelse remembered, 35 years on

The family of Ebrahim Carelse at his commemoration at Mowbray Muslim cemetery, from left, his daughter Gakieha Abrahams, sons Irfaan and Siraj Caresle and, seated, his wife, Jawaya Carelse.

Ebrahim Carelse was an ordinary working man, a clerk at a firm of attorneys, but his death in 1985 at the hands of the apartheid police was a tipping point for many, and more than 10 000 mourners attended his funeral at the Mowbray Muslim cemetery

Last Thursday, Mr Carelse’s family and the Salt River Heritage Society (SRHS) gathered at the cemetery to commemorate the 35th anniversary of his death.

Mr Carelse lived with his wife, Jawaya, and his three children in Burns Street, Salt River.

Ms Carelse described how she had heard a shot shortly after her husband had left the house to visit a friend across the street.

She said her son Siraj, who was 11 at the time, had seen his father through the window running into his neighbour’s place with a gunshot wound to his head.

“He said, ‘mommy they shot daddy.’”

Mr Carelse was 31.

According to the heritage society, Mr Carelse was left bleeding in the yard for over an hour before any medical help was called, and he was falsely accused of hurling petrol bombs.

Mr Carelse’s death was reported in the Cape Times in September 1985.

Earlier that year, PW Botha had declared a state of emergency and the country was in turmoil.

Mr Carelse’s death sparked outrage.

Shabodien Roomany, the founder of the heritage society, was among the thousands of mourners who attended his funeral. He said Mr Carelse’s death had helped to galvanise the community.

“The SRHS has the important role of gathering information of what happened at that moment and documenting this for future generations,” he said.

Ms Carelse, who was 29 when her husband died, said she had carried the pain of losing him all these years.

She was left to raise three children on her own, and she said the police’s false accusations that her husband had been armed had made her loss even more painful.

“He was a working-class man; he went to work in the morning and came home in the evening,” she said.

Mr Carelse’s daughter, Gakieha Abrahams, was 13 at the time of her father’s death and said she had had to take on extra responsibility of looking after her two younger brothers, Irfaan, and Siraaj.

Irfaan Carelse, who was 5 at the time of his father’s death, said: “It was quite scary growing up without a father, luckily I had siblings to look up to growing up.”

Siraaj Caresle said it was important to commemorate such occasions. Many other innocent people had suffered under the state of emergency, he said.

Anwar Omar is the vice chairman of the heritage society and a film-maker who made the documentary Salt River High 1976 – The Untold Story. He is now working on a documentary on the life of Ebrahim Carelse.

“I was a freelance journalist during 1985 and about 50 metres from my house, Ebrahim got shot,” he said.

“This story always stuck with me as there were thousands and thousands of people who attended the funeral,” he said. “Telling stories that are largely forgotten is to pay remembrance to our unsung heroes.”

He added: “Many of the unsung heroes of that era are what we owe our freedom to in this country today.”