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  • Tributes to Kader Asmal

    By Sarah | June 24, 2011

    The Irish Independent

    Kader Asmal, who died on June 22, 2011, aged 76, was founder and leader of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and was a member of Nelson Mandela’s first democratically elected government of South Africa.

    Born in Stranger, Kwazulu-Natal, in 1934, he was one of eight children. Growing up many figures influenced his interest in human rights. As a schoolboy he met Nobel Prize recipient Albert Luthuli who preached non-violent protest against apartheid. An excellent student, Asmal qualified as a teacher in 1959. The same year he moved to London where he enrolled in the London School of Economics and Political Science.

    While studying law he founded the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. In 1962 he graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree which he followed up with a masters’ degree two years later. The following year he moved to Dublin and began lecturing in law at Trinity College. He would continue to lecture there for 27 years where he specialised in human rights, labour and international law.

    He founded the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1963 and became its vice-chairman. The movement was best known for its protests against the Irish Rugby Football Association for participating in competitive fixtures with the highly controversial Springbok team. In 1965 he founded the Irish Federation of University Teachers.

    In 1970 the movement gained notoriety with protests at Lansdowne Road where 6,000 protesters objected to the touring Springbok team. The scrappy match, which ended in an unexpected eight-point draw, would be followed with similar protests over the next two decades that would constantly embarrass the IRFU and the South African government.

    In 1972 he was elected as the movement’s chairman, a position he would retain until leaving for South Africa in 1991. The movement gained more attention through clever campaigning orchestrated by Asmal, bringing more attention to the apartheid plight.

    In 1976 he was a founder member of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and in 1985 he was awarded the Unesco prize for his work in the development of human rights and teaching. The Birmingham Six case was one Asmal took particular interest in and in 1990 he took the case to the UN Human Rights Commission.

    The same year Asmal returned to South Africa following the legalisation of the African National Congress (ANC). Although delighted with the progress of reform in South Africa, he lamented the moment he rescinded his Irish passport. “It was the hardest moment of my life,” he remarked.

    After being elected to the ANC leadership in 1993 he became a member of the movement’s negotiating team at the Multiparty Negotiating Forum in 1993. Asmal earned many credits to his name, receiving honorary degrees from Trinity College, Queen’s University Belfast and the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland. He also earned an honorary fellowship from the London School of Economics.

    He continued in government despite been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 1998. In 1999 he became Minister for Education, strenuously opposing the “poaching” of teachers from poorer African countries.

    He continued serving in this position until he resigned due to the government’s links with corrupt security forces.

    The author of two books and over 150 articles, Asmal was known for his straight-talking manner and ability to discuss in depth any topic.

    He had fond memories of Ireland and his favourite story concerned an encounter with a Kerryman on board a train. When the stranger asked him: “Hey are you that Kader bastard?” Asmal hesitantly nodded. But instead of the expected abuse, the Kerryman said: “We’re with you all the way, boy!” in relation to the anti-apartheid movement.

    He returned to Ireland in 2008 to attend the unveiling of a plaque in honour of Dunnes Stores workers for their lengthy anti-apartheid protests during the Eighties.

    Hailed as one of the most determined human rights campaigner during the anti-apartheid era, tributes flooded in across the world.

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “He served his people and his nation without a thought of self-enrichment or aggrandisement.”

    Kadar Asmal is survived by wife Louise and sons Rafiq and Adam.

    Tributes to Kader Asmal

    An activist and intellectual. He worked tirelessly to isolate, weaken and end apartheid. Born and educated in South Africa he had to leave due to his political beliefs and activities. A founder of the (British) Anti Apartheid Movement he was for a time its treasurer. He was a founder and first vice chair of the Irish Anti Apartheid Movement and its chair from 1972-1991. He then made a major contribution to the establishment of a democratic South Africa, to its development and to the upholding of human rights. He helped make the world a better, freer and more just place.

    “I had the privilege and pleasure of knowing Kader and Louise Asmal for many years, while they were living in Ireland and leading the campaign there in support of the African National Congress and the liberation of South Africa. Kader and Louise were indefatigable, campaigning with a determination and good humour which rallied widespread support, and which inspired so many people into action over the years, both in Ireland and the UK.

    My favourite story about Kader is about a meeting we had in South Africa when he was Minister of Education (in 2000, I think). We were talking about the Community HEART/ACTSA Scotland Book Appeal. Denis Goldberg told him that we had already sent one million books, and Kader replied “In that case, you can make it three million”. Which we have now done.

    Kader was a marvellous man and a true hero of the struggle.” David Kenvyn

    “A great man, a great mind, and who I for one will remember him fondly and will celebrate him as the stalwart that he was in our struggle against apartheid and equally the stalwart and intellectual beacon that he was in the fight for human rights and social justice.” Glen Robinson

    “Kader was a personal friend to some people in Bristol. He chaired Bristol AAM’s enquiry into RTZ which opened a lot of doors especially with the council and the churches in Bristol.” Dave Spurgeon, Chair ACTSA Bristol

    [Kader] was an outstanding comrade, who made an indelible mark on everyone he met. And, he was a great character! I remember standing at the bar in the Officer’s mess with him, drinking a glass of Irish Paddy (his favoured whisky!), at an event inside Cape Town barracks hosted by the then new Deputy Minister of Defence, Ronnie Kasrils, for an ACTSA delegation, just six months after the 1994 election. That event, a thirty-strong ACTSA delegation mingling with South Africa’s military top brass and several of the new political leadership, showed just how far things had changed……Kader made a brilliant contribution to the liberation struggles over decades in exile and in government. ACTSA Scotland will be sending condolences to Louise and their family. Brian Filling, Chair ACTSA Scotland.

    I was sorry to hear of the death of Kader Asmal, I did know him, as I was with the AAM. He was able to so much with his life which made him such an admirable person. Yvonne Enid Kassim

    Topics: News from ACTSA | 2 Comments »

    2 Responses to “Tributes to Kader Asmal”

    1. Anne Page Says:
      July 5th, 2011 at 1:05 am

      This is a comment on the tribute to Kader on the London School of Economics website:

      Anne Page, LSE Governor, Honorary Consul for South Africa says:

      The last time I met Kader Asmal at his home in Cape Town, he told me that being made an Honorary Fellow of LSE was perhaps the most treasured accolade of his richly, and rightly, honoured life. The first time I met him in Cape Town, just after the return in 1990, when he was working on the new Constitution, he said : ” I am doing the work I have lived for”. How fortunate that he lived to do even more work vital to the new South Africa, after so long spent demolishing apartheid. How unsurprising that his last campaigns, through difficult illness, were to do with protecting and enhancing that Constitution. Hamba kahle, Kader.

    2. A. Finnerty Says:
      December 4th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

      I was one of the 6,000 protesters on 10th. Jan. 1970 outside Lansdowne Road. Our chant was “Paint them blacl and send them back”. I was not aware that we were making history that day, but I am delighted that I gave up my day to protest against an ‘All White’ team no matter which sport they played.
      God Bless South Africa.

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