The University of the Western Cape (UWC) encourages graduates, students, academics and staff to engage with communities to bring about social upliftment. This year UWC has awarded the inaugural Gold Medal for Commitment to Community Service to alumnus Mr Ebrahim Rhoda at the December graduation ceremony.
He was born in Strand and is a well-known historian who has initiated numerous social-upliftment programmes in the Strand Muslim community over the past 59 years.
The medal - according to Edgar De Koker, UWC’s Deputy Registrar: Secretariat & Policy Management, in terms of the criteria, is bestowed on individuals who have made an extraordinary contribution to the upliftment of the community through exceptional leadership, community involvement and related activities.
In addition, the nominee should reflect relevant meritorious or outstanding contributions to public life, or significant benefit to society at large.
As an educator at Strand Moslem Primary School, Mr Rhoda played a major role in changing the mindset of the Strand Muslim community about the importance of secular education. In the 1960s only about 10% of all successful Standard 5 learners at the Strand Moslem Primary School matriculated. By the 1980s many more Muslims matriculated after the Primary School highlighted the importance of secular education.
In 1966 Mr Rhoda was part of a community delegation that managed to unify four separate Muslim congregations in the Strand to form the Strand Moslem Council (SMC). The SMC was empowered to administer the religious, educational, financial and cultural affairs of the Strand Muslim community.
The enactment of the Group Areas Act forced many families from Strand, both Muslim and Christian, to move to the township of Macassar in the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1980 Mr Rhoda, in conjunction with Muslim leaders of the Macassar township, established the Macassar Moslem Council (MMC) that administers the affairs of Muslims in the area. As treasurer he embarked on a fundraising drive to purchase land and to build a mosque. In 1992 Masjidus Saa’biereen (the mosque of the patient ones) was completed.
In 2002, Mr Rhoda was part of a group of researchers who established the Cape Family Research Forum (CFRF) whose main objective was to encourage people to do research about their genealogy. Using the annual festivals run by the community radio station Voice of the Cape as a vehicle to promote the concept of the research of genealogy, many families came on board.
Armed with only narratives, many families were able to trace their origin to present-day Indonesia. In 2003, Mr Rhoda and a group of dedicated community members staged the first ever photographic exhibition on Heritage Day, which depicted various facets of the community, ranging from fishermen, imams, mosques, cultural organisations, religious events, rugby and cricket teams, families, and women and their role in the community.
Mr Rhoda was accepted for a master’s degree via the University’s Recognition of Prior Learning programme. He completed his MA degree in 2006 and was subsequently awarded the Division for Lifelong Learning Senior Award by UWC. In 2009, Mr Rhoda received the Western Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Award in the heritage category for his contribution to public awareness/documentation of heritage resources.
He has published two books: From Slavery to Citizenship: a walk through the history of a Strand community in 2011, and The Strand Muslim Community: 1822 – 1966, An Historical Overview in 2014.