Persuasive voice for SA in Washington
FORMER Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool says his life and his health have improved since he left local politics. But for the past few years he has been watching – with concern and from afar – the travails of the ANC, the organisation of which he used to be provincial leader.
“I’ve lost 20 kilos, my blood sugar is under control, my blood pressure is normal, my wife loves me again, I’ve seen my children in their formative years, and the stress has reduced enormously,” he said.
“I’m in a very happy space, but as people who contributed to the Struggle, we can never be satisfied if our creation is not perfect. That restlessness stays with me and that’s the ambiguity in my life. I know that I am successfully doing what I love doing, but something continues to gnaw at your soul, and I have to resolve that.”
Rasool is in South Africa mainly to introduce his son to local Muslim traditions, and to visit family. He also celebrated his birthday with a spit braai last Friday.
He is expected to deliver a lecture at UCT on extremism next month and is promoting his World For All Foundation.
After he left the premiership, he acted briefly as a special adviser to Kgalema Motlanthe, who later became president of South Africa. Rasool was then sent briefly to Parliament before he received a call from President Jacob Zuma offering him the ambassadorship to the US.
Rasool said the president’s decision was informed by a 2006 visit to South Africa by a then unknown US senator named Barack Obama.
All the politicians Obama tried to see at the time were too busy, so Rasool, who was then Western Cape premier, spent about two-and-a-half hours with him.
“I gave him as a gift a lithograph of Nelson Mandela’s first speech on the day he was released.
“Two years later, the unknown senator from Illinois was elected as president of the United States. Shortly after that I got a call from President Zuma.
“He said to me. ‘It looks like we messed up but you seem to be one of the few people who actually met Obama. Can you go to Washington?’ And that’s how I ended up in Washington.
“It was wonderful. As we were sitting very relaxed in our informal outfits on the aeroplane, we landed at Dulles International Airport and the pilot said, ‘Can ambassador Rasool and his family please come to the front?’ There was a big protocol service to take us off the plane. One of the officials then told me, ‘Normally ambassadors wait three months before they go to the Oval Office to hand in their credentials, but President Obama is very aware that it is Ramadaan in 10 days’ time, so one day before Ramadaan, you will be in the Oval office to present your credentials.’
“That was a record time. Nine days later I was in the Oval office, meeting him and chatting away.”
Since his term ended in 2015, Rasool has been a scholar in residence at Georgetown University, where he has been researching, writing, lecturing and engaging with people from some of the trouble spots in the world.
Former ANC provincial leader Ebrahim Rasool at a press briefing announcing his resignation in 2008.