Mohamed was born in Johannesburg to Amina and Ismail Mohamed, one of at least five children. Growing up in Jeppe, he was educated at Gold Street Primary School and William Hills Secondary School. He then went to Natal, to the University of Durban-Westville, where in 1972 he took part in SASO's student boycotts. He eventually graduated from the University of South Africa.
In 1976 he became an attorney, going on to work for the law firm of Shun Chetty, which had a record of defending anti-apartheid activists. He joined the Democratic Lawyers' Association and his work included the Chatsworth housing action committee and the Natal rates committee. From 1981 to 82 he was detained, and in 1985 was arrested again. In 1986 he served on the economic intelligence desk of the ANC. He was involved in negotiations with the Inkatha Freedom Party to help reduce political violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
Revolutions need the undercarriage of thinkers, planners and persuaders. It was to this grouping that Yunus Mohamed so obviously belonged. My experience of him was of a persuader not because he feared; on the contrary by the time we first met he had already tasted solitary confinement, but because he was so focused on success. Yunus was one of those who gave our struggle form, depth, shape and style!— Trevor Manuel
When three senior members of the UDF – Frank Chikane, Popo Molefe and Patrick Lekota – and 19 others were arrested for treason, Mohamed was an instructing attorney in what became known as the Delmas Treason Trial. The trial ran from 1985 to 1988, with sentences being overturned by the Supreme Court in 1989.
- Momoniat, Yunus (2008-01-20), "Mahomed was an architect of the UDF", Mail & Guardian online. Accessed 2008-01-24
- Hamlyn, Michael (2008-01-10), "Kagiso Trust chairperson dies", Mail & Guardian online. Accessed 2008-01-24
- Manuel, Trevor (2008-01-16). "Tribute to Comrade Yunus Mohamed Memorial meeting by Trevor Manuel, Minister of Finance, Johannesburg". South African Government Information. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
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