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Fabian Defu Ribeiro (1933 - 1986)

The Order of the Baobab in

Fabian Defu Ribeiro (1933 - 1986) Awarded for:
Dedicating his life to serve the oppressed and for his outstanding contribution to the struggle for an equal, just and democratic society.

Profile of Fabian Defu Ribeiro

Medical doctor and community worker, Dr Fabian Ribeiro, was born in Natal in 1933. After completing a BSc Degree at the University of Fort Hare in 1951, he studied Medicine at the University of Natal. Having completed his internship at King Edward Hospital in Durban in 1959, he worked in Welkom for a while before opening a surgery practice in Mamelodi, Pretoria in 1961.

Although he was not affiliated to any political organisation, his own experiences, his compassion for the plight of the poor and his deep sense of justice led him to be outspoken in his condemnation of Apartheid. His utterings often resulted in warnings from the Special Branch which put him under surveillance because of his association with Robert Sobukwe.

Dr Ribeiro attached much importance to providing good education to the youth and was at pains to assist many young people to obtain this, often by sponsoring them to study abroad and especially in Lesotho where he had good contacts through the Catholic Church.

In the 1970s, Dr Ribeiro opened a practice in the poor area of Winterveld where he often treated his patients for free. The increasing numbers of injured and brutalised people entering his practice made him realise that the repression of the South African Government was becoming more widespread and vicious. Dr Ribeiro arranged for many of his young patients to further their studies abroad. He began to record the evidence of police brutality and made a number of videotapes to highlight the plight of the local population. A well-known video, Witness to Apartheid, made in absolute secrecy, was widely distributed overseas.

Both Dr Ribeiro and his wife, Florence, were relentlessly harassed and persecuted. In 1980, he was detained for a few months. There were countless unsuccessful assassination attempts on their lives. In March 1986, a petrol bomb was thrown through a window on the top floor of his house. Though the couple considered leaving the country, they decided against this. Instead of breaking his spirit, the imprisonment and harassment made Dr Ribeiro more determined to speak out against the atrocities of the Government and to continue to serve his people.

On 1 December 1986, Dr Ribeiro and his wife were mysteriously gunned down and killed in the courtyard of their home.

Dr Ribeiro believed in and fought for the equality of all people, irrespective of race. Dr Ribeiro refused to let Apartheid persecution break his spirit and continued to serve until his life was taken by an assassin’s bullet.