South Africa’s ambassador to U.S. is May 2 Commencement speaker
Roosevelt University announced today that Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s Ambassador to the United States, will deliver the Commencement address and receive an honorary doctoral degree at the University’s 2 p.m. Commencement ceremony on May 2.
The ceremony is for graduates of Roosevelt’s Walter E. Heller College of Business, College of Education and Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies.
In addition to being one of South Africa’s most respected political leaders, Ambassador Rasool has a long history of involvement in his country’s anti-apartheid struggle and has been an active participant in the Islamic and Interfaith Movements.
The ambassador’s appearance at Roosevelt comes during the 20th anniversary year of the end of apartheid in South Africa. It was on April 27, 1994 that the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, with people of all races being able to vote. In that election, Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa's first black president.
Ambassador Rasool first met Nelson Mandela in 1987 when they were both prisoners in a Cape Town jail. “Mr. Mandela asked to see me because he heard I was among the political detainees,” Mr. Rasool said. “We met privately in the waiting room of the prison’s hospital.”
Eleven years later, a freed Ambassador Rasool received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The award recognized his “leadership in promoting improved health care for underserved populations in the Western Cape Province and in combating tuberculosis.”
“Roosevelt University is proud to recognize Ambassador Rasool’s distinguished career as an extraordinary public servant who is dedicated to bringing together people of different races and religions,” said Roosevelt President Chuck Middleton. “He will receive Roosevelt’s highest honor, a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa, in recognition of his many impressive accomplishments and his commitment to freedom of speech and opportunity.”
Ambassador Rasool was nine years old when his family was forced to move from South Africa’s District Six because the Apartheid government decided the area was for whites only. He later joined the anti-apartheid movement and assumed leadership roles in the United Democratic Front and the African National Congress and spent time in prison and under house arrest for his political activities.
The ambassador’s social and political involvement is faith driven. He has been active in mobilizing Muslims and the broader faith communities for a deeper understanding of Islam and faith under conditions of oppression (under apartheid) and currently under conditions of globalization, and is particularly active in addressing the potential for fundamentalism and extremism in the context of global change and uncertainty.
Before joining the South African Embassy in the United States, Ambassador Rasool’s most recent positions were as a member of Parliament in the National Assembly, special advisor to the state president of the Republic of South Africa and premier of the Western Cape Province, where he was instrumental in attracting foreign investment into the province worth approximately $1 billion. In addition, he has led various departments, including Health, Welfare, Finance and Economic Development, distinguishing himself in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
For his contribution to South Africa, Ambassador Rasool has been the recipient of a number of leadership awards in addition to the Mandela award. In 2008 he was awarded the Visionary Leadership and Public Good Award from the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists, and the Award for Commitment and Leadership in Fight Against Crime from Business Against Crime. In 2005 the London Financial Times awarded Ambassador Rasool the Foreign Direct Investment Africa Personality of the Year Award. He also is founder of the World for All Foundation, a foundation that creates co-operative relations between faiths, cultures and communities at a global level.
Ambassador Rasool is a prolific speaker on a range of topics covering politics, governance and religion. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Higher Diploma in Education from the University of Cape Town. He is married with two children.