Ismail Ayob’s biography, fact, career, awards, net worth and life story

Is Lawyer
From South Africa
Type Law

1942, Mahikeng, Mahikeng Local Municipality, Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality, South Africa

Age79 years
London School of Economics and Political Science

Ismail Mahomed Ayob (born 1942 in Mafeking) is a South African lawyer. Ayob practised law in South Africa and for much of his career the bulk of his work was with anti-apartheid cases. Ayob was involved in a much-publicised series of disputes with Nelson Mandela.


Ayob’s cousin Ismail Mahomed, who was later Chief Justice of South Africa, helped Ayob secure his first job in 1969 at a firm involved in cases related to the anti-apartheid movement. In 1973, he left the firm to start his own company by the name of Ismail Ayob & Associates.

Apartheid era lawyer

For the first twenty years of his career, Ayob concentrated on human rights cases, acting for opponents of the apartheid regime. Ayob defended and represented many South African political prisoners. Ayob was one of the few people who were allowed to visit Nelson Mandela while he was imprisoned on Robben Island. His most high-profile case was that of Hélène Passtoors, a Belgian woman accused of ferrying arms for the then-banned African National Congress. Another high-profile client of Ayob’s was Winnie Mandela, who he represented during the Stompie Moeketsi kidnapping trial.

Nelson Mandela lawsuit

Ismail Ayob was asked by Nelson Mandela in May 2005 to stop selling certain prints signed by Mr Mandela and also to account for the proceeds of the sales of these prints in a prominently publicised application to the High Court of South Africa.

Mr Ayob responded that he never sold any prints but had acted only in a professional capacity as Attorney and agent for Mr Mandela and his family. Under oath he said that he had never sold any prints nor was he a partner of anyone selling prints. In terms of the written contracts, Ayob was to receive royalties due to the Mandela family. These royalties were received from time to time and were held in the Mandela company accounts under his control; he gave a full accounting with an explanation.

Mr Ayob denied any wrongdoing, and declared that he was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by Mr Mandela’s advisors, in particular lawyer George Bizos. One particular issue was the drawing up of a last will for Mr Mandela. Nelson Mandela stated under oath that despite many requests, Ismail Ayob refused to draw up a will. In his answer Ismail Ayob enclosed copies of five different wills signed by Nelson Mandela over a period of years. These were produced as annexures to Ismail Ayob’s answering affidavit.

After a difference of opinion with Mr Mandela, Ismail Ayob, Zamila Ayob, and Zayd Ismail Ayob were subject to an attack by Mr Mandela’s advisors. This campaign was driven through the media by page-one headlines and lead stories on radio and television. Six weeks later, proceedings were launched by Mr Mandela. His new advisors supported the application by way of supporting affidavits. Major clients, religious bodies, Mosques, the Law Society, cultural bodies, community associations, and the South African Revenue Service authorities were all contacted and attempts were made to vilify Ismail Ayob and his family. There were public meetings held in Pretoria and Durban. At these meetings, the Minister Essop Pahad in the office of the South African President Thabo Mbeki attacked Ismail Ayob and his entire family. He declared that it was an issue of guilt or innocence. Ahmed Kathrada, at a meeting he addressed in Laudium, called on Ismail Ayob to “surrender”. Ahmed Docrat called Ismail Ayob a “crook” at the same meeting. There were calls for Ismail Ayob and his family to be ostracised by society and to be expelled from Mosques and community and charitable organisations and that there be protest marches and paid newspaper advertisements signed by supporters of Mr Mandela.

In terms of the High Court rules, Mr Mandela and his new advisors were required to reply within two weeks of the answer of Ismail Ayob and Zamila Ayob. Some 20 months later, no reply had been made.

2007 court action

Ismail Ayob, George Bizos and Wim Trengrove were trustees of the Nelson Mandela Trust. The Trust was set up to hold money donated to Nelson Mandela. Ismail Ayob resigned from the Trust. In 2006, the two remaining trustees of the Nelson Mandela Trust launched an application against Mr Ayob for disbursing money in terms of the trust deed without their express consent. Mr Ayob explained these disbursements included money that was paid to the South African Revenue Service, to the children and grandchildren of Nelson Mandela, to Nelson Mandela himself, and to an accounting company for four years of accounting work.

It was alleged that Ismail Ayob made defamatory remarks about Nelson Mandela in his affidavit, for which the court order stated that Ismail Ayob should apologise. These alleged that Nelson Mandela had foreign bank accounts and had not paid tax on these were later pointed out to have originated not from Ismail Ayob’s affidavit but from Nelson Mandela’s, George Bizos’, and Iqbal Meer’s affidavits against Ismail Ayob.

Personal life

Ayob attended the Methodist Coloured School until the age of 14, when he was sent to Pretoria to continue his schooling at the Pretoria Indian Boys High School, as schools in his area were closed to him because of his race. He is married to Zamila Ayob and they have one son, Zayd Ismail Ayob, who is also his law partner.

Due to his Indian heritage, Ayob found that he could not attend university after he completed high school in 1959. He moved to London, where he attended the London School of Economics and read law. He qualified as a barrister and returned to South Africa to practice as an attorney.