Like many people, I had heard about Yusuf Talia before I met him. I came onto campus in first year literally looking for the legend I had heard of. It took me an entire term to summon the courage to talk to him in person…and when I finally did, in an instant I felt I was in the presence of a real-life hero.

Many of us knew Yusuf for his amazing leadership abilities, which saw him first as the deputy president of the Wits SRC. He directed the MSA Union out of oblivion- unifying the youthful Muslim voice by leading every single MSA committee across the country with excellence and justice, while he played an imperative role in a mentorship programme- RiDeneo. Having achieved two degrees from Wits University, he was doing his honours in physiology- proving his strength in character, and furthering his knowledge.

Yusuf literally spent thousands of hours dedicated to organisations and causes that he believed in. It comes with no surprise, then, that with the unshakeable support of his family, and his (super-powers) abilities, he was named as one of South Africa’s 200 most prominent young South Africans according to the Mail And Guardian in 2013. Yusuf was a human with a quarter of the physical capabilities of many of us, but what he had achieved in life is almost four times the amount any of us could possibly achieve. This was the Yusuf Talia that I was literally in bewilderment of in first year.

But what about the Yusuf Talia most people didn’t know? What about the Yusuf away from the magnificent leader and pioneer in every field he took an interest in? What about the Yusuf who was a fierce friend?
I want people to know the legend I befriended, whom I knew for a mere six years. The Yusuf who had an amazing sense of humour and would literally have me laughing out loud at my phone. He could silence one of my crazy rants with a single sentence of logic, while he revealed my fault in a gentle manner that none other could. I will never forget how he offered to ride over the boys who were troubling me with his wheelchair (we fondly referred to it as the ‘Taliamobile’). We could spend an hour having a good laugh about all of his “fan girls” (and let me assure you, these were never short in number!). Yusuf lent me strength when I crumbled under the smallest of trials, and I watched in silent admiration as he patiently accepted the trials offered to him by even the smallest of everyday tasks. He would shout at me for being insecure, playfully threaten to mow over my enemies, and always guide me to the morally correct choice -he was a friend of magnanimous proportions. I am honoured to call him my friend for 6 years and I never heard a single word of gossip from him in that time- his trustworthiness made him everybody’s confidante and yet he treasured every single secret with the utmost of respect. I wish people shifted away from the ‘awkward’ context of a guy in a wheelchair and got to know the Yusuf who was the greatest of best friends, a patient listener, an excellent advisor, a friend with wisdom, with the foresight far beyond our years. He was the type of friend that people yearn for in this world.

While getting caught up in Yusuf’s public figure and all of his countless and amazing achievements, we sometimes forget that he was a young adult with emotions, dreams and aspirations too. Blessed with a brilliantly astute mind and faith and patience that could literally move mountains, I know that his stage in paradise will be eons above mine. I can only pray he will remember me and come visit my soul in paradise too, because I know that my time spent with his was far too short.

I knew Yusuf beyond the academic, organisational and justice-leading giant that he was.  I knew that even though he had made accomplishments on this earth that were colossal it was his untarnished humility and over powering humbleness which made him known to all. I knew Yusuf as an unshakable Muslim, a friend who was the epitome of all things desired in a companion, and a human who stood tall through the calibre of character that this world needs.

We will miss you, Yusuf, our leader, our friend.

Written by:

Aayesha J Soni

Vice Chairperson: Media Review Network

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Author: Aayesha SoniAayesha J Soni is a medical doctor, qualified from the University of the Witwatersrand. Her passion is combatting injustice globally, and her particular focus of challenging the growing trend of Islamophobia is done through her various written and oral critiques.