Mr Ebrahim Patel, the first president of the South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU) and one of the driving forces behind the movement to rugby unity towards the end of the 20th century, passed away early on Monday morning at the age of 78 years old after suffering a stroke.
In paying tribute to Mr Patel and the role he played in rugby in South Africa, Mr Mark Alexander, President of SA Rugby, who visited Mr Patel at his home on Sunday with a delegation of former players and administrators, said he was a “pioneer of non-racial rugby”.
After more than a century of the game being divided along racial lines in South Africa, rugby unity was achieved almost 30 years ago, on 20 March 1992, following covert negotiations between various rugby authorities and the banned African National Congress (ANC) from 1988 onwards.
The white South African Rugby Board (SARB), the non-racial South African Rugby Union (SARU), the South African Rugby Football Federation (SARFF) and the South African Rugby Association (SARA) came together in 1992 to form SARFU, under the joint presidency of Mr Patel (SARU) and Dr Danie Craven (SARB).
Apart from negotiating with the prevailing authorities to bring about unity in the game, Mr Patel also ensured players from SARU were informed about the progress being made and urged them to remain patient after many decades of sacrifice to ensure a level playing field for all South Africans.
“His contribution to the game here in South Africa is on par with some of the greatest administrators we’ve ever had, and it was a remarkable achievement to bring all rugby communities together after so many years of division,” said Mr Alexander.
“He served the game at so many levels – as secretary, spokesman and later president – and it was only fitting that he and the late Dr Danie Craven shared the position as first executive president of SARFU back in 1992.
“Mr Patel met with representatives of the erstwhile SA Rugby Board and exiled leaders of the ANC, who were then still a banned organisation, in London, Lusaka and Harare. He worked incredibly hard to bring about unity and will forever be remembered as one of the kingpins of the game in South Africa, but also globally, as he also served on the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby).
“Mr Patel was also an excellent orator, able to deliver brilliant speeches in both fluent English and Afrikaans, quoting from the Quran and the Bible. We must never forget what he did for rugby in South Africa and he deserves to be honoured by generations to come.
“He was also instrumental in bringing me into the world of sport administration and I’ll be forever grateful. I was still a player at Transvaal when our deputy president passed away, and Mr Patel put me in that role, as he believed in the importance of succession planning and building for the future.
“As a result, I worked with him for 10 years at the erstwhile Transvaal Independent Rugby Football Union and I owe my involvement in rugby administration to him.
“Our prayers and thoughts are with his wife Diana, his children Fatima, Nazley, Ashraf and Fuad, his grand-children and other family, friends and loved ones in this time of bereavement, and we pray that Almighty Allah grant him Jannat Firdaus.”
Mr Marhoom Ebrahim Suleman Patel, born on 15 August 1943, was a schoolmaster and dedicated close to four decades of his life to the cause of non-racialism and rugby unity. He passed away on Monday, 21 February 2022 and will be buried at Newclare Cemetery in Johannesburg on the same day according to Muslim faith.