Ebrahim Ismail Asvat (Aswat) was born in Surat, India. He was a committed passive resister from Vereeniging, Transvaal (now Gauteng). He was a Member of the Committee of British Indian Association (BIA) and Secretary of its Johannesburg branch.
On 1 February 1909, he was elected Acting Chairman of BIA when Ahmed Mahomed Cachalia went to prison. He served three terms of imprisonment in 1908–09: jailed for one week in November 1908 for hawking without licence; sentenced on 3 March 1909 to three months with hard labour; sentenced again on 20 October to three months with hard labour.
On 23 January 1909, Aswat followed Ahmed Mohamed Cachalia’s example by informing his creditors of his determination to resist the anti-Indian laws and placing all his assets at their disposal. He wrote to them: ‘My liabilities are roughly £2,000 and my assets £4,000.’7 After he went to prison, his brother Moosa Aswat, who was left in charge of his store, was sentenced to one month with hard labour for trading without licence. Another brother, Mahomed, was sentenced to three months with hard labour for the same offence. The store was re-opened on 11 May 1909. Volunteers came forward to manage the store and fifteen of them were arrested in turn and sentenced to three months with hard labour.
Esse Asmal, Suji, P.K. Naidoo, A. Varadan Chettiar (a young man of 19 who had already undergone four terms of imprisonment), N.M. Naidoo, Govindjee, Raju Naidoo, Muthu, S.S. Pather, T. Candasamy Mudaley, S.R. Naidoo, Kaloo, Chokalingam Moodaley, Fakir Bhikha and Vassan Pema were the young volunteers who were imprisoned and sentenced to three months with hard labour for this act of defiance.
Asvat was released from prison on 19 January 1910. His weight had declined drastically and he was suffering from rheumatism of the legs. He was President of Transvaal branch of the Non-European United Front (NEUF) when it was formed in 1938, with Dr. Yusuf Dadoo as secretary. Both his daughters, Zainab Asvat and Amina Cachalia were active in the South African liberation movement.
Ebrahim Ismail Asvat died on 3 July 1940.
Hiralal, K. & Reddy, E.S. (2017). Pioneers of Satyagraha Indian South Africans Defy Racist Laws, 1907–1914, p 290 online. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319292422_PIONEERS_OF_SATYAGRAHA_Indian_South_Africans_Defy_Racist_Laws_1907-1914 online. Accessed on 11 January 2019