Young, inspiring leader Yusuf Talia, the president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) Union passed away on Monday morning. Wheelchair bound Talia died at the age of 25 years, after living with a degenerative disease. Talia battled with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an illness which caused his muscles to degenerate.
He is regarded as one of the founding members of the MSA umbrella body and was its president since January last year. Despite his demanding leadership positions and roles, Talia received two degrees from Wits University and was studying towards an honours degree in Science. He received these degrees with distinction and became a member of the Golden Key Honours Society.
“He has played a phenomenal role in establishing the union and creating it what it is today,” said the MSA Union’s public relations officer Insaaf Peters.
Having a passion for education led him to participate in many community efforts to bring education to the less fortunate. He represented students on the national higher education disability structure and headed a mentorship programme at Redineo, an initiative to bring education for the impoverished youth. He was also the deputy president of the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) in 2010. In 2013, he was named as one of the 200 up-and-coming young South Africans in the Mail and Guardian.
Peters said the determined Talia was not deterred by his physical appearance and disability but had a positive outlook on life.
“His spirit was never contained…he had such flair and passion,” she said.
Talia was part of the larger Palestinian solidarity movement for several years and had led various campaigns to advance the freedom for the people of Palestine. In particular, Talia played an instrumental role in the annual Israeli Apartheid Week campaign.
“Comrade Yusuf Talia lead his life in a way that inspired all of us to continue working for a better South Africa, a free Palestine and a more just world – he leaves behind a legacy of being a champion for social justice. We celebrate Comrade Yusuf’s inspirational life and we hope to live out his legacy,” said Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement in South Africa.
Talia’s last tweet is a fitting reflection of what he stood for.
“The job isn’t done while apartheid still exists in Palestine – Let’s maintain our solidarity and keep fighting for justice!” he posted recently.
“We offer our condolences and strength to the Talia family, in particular Yusuf Talia’s younger brother comrade Waseem Tali.”
On social media, members of the ulema, students, pro-Palestine activists and civil society leaders paid homage to Talia.
“Heart shattering news. Passing of @Yusuf_Talia A titan of a man. A Leader, Friend, Bro & Inspiration. May Allah SWT accept his efforts IA,” tweeted Zaakir Ahmed Mayet from the Media Review Network.
“Thoughts must be with the @MSA_Union on the tragic loss of their beloved president. RIP Yusuf Talia. One of SA’s finest, most talented& inspirational young leaders, Yusuf Talia, has passed away,” tweeted Bram Hanekom from the ANC Youth League.
“Saddened by the passing of student leader comrade Yusuf Talia. He led many struggles n motivated many more to achieve their full potential,” wrote Tahir Sema, a former trade union activist
“It us with great sadness that I heard of death of Yusuf Talia, who despite his physical challenge was an inspiration.May Allah elevate him,” wrote Ebrahim Bham , the secretary general of the Jamiatul Ulema.
“Today we say farewell to one of our own, Cde Yusuf Talia, who led an exemplary life of activism in this struggle & others has passed away,” said Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee.
Journalist Khadija Patel said Yusuf Talia “will remain an inspiration to us all, an exemplar of youth leadership, bravery and determination.”
The MSA Union has urged the community to come together to pay tribute to the “fallen leader”.
“We have learned the approach of collective leadership through Yusuf Talia’s example and we can show tribute through practicing collective leadership,” Peters said.
The MSA of Cape Town will be hosting Salah-tul-Ghaib on Tuesday evening after Esha at Masjid ul Quds, Gatesville. For more information contact Nasreen Hamdulay 072 897 7850. VOC (Nailah Cornelissen)