Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Kader Asmal RIP

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jun 23rd, 2011 at 09:30:32 PM EST


Kader Asmal and former president Mary Robinson at a meeting of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in September 1976.

The address given in the poster opposite was that of his Dublin home at the time.

Kader Asmal, founder of both the British and Irish Anti-Apartheid movements, Cabinet Minister in Mandela's and Mbeki's Governments, and lately, critic of Zuma's Government in South Africa has died aged 76 after a heart attack.

He lectured me in International Law in Trinity College Dublin but was always more noted for his activism than his academicism. He was among a number of South African émigrés who later inspired me to do my Masters thesis on the options for ending Apartheid and predicting its immanent demise (for largely economic reasons).

Asmal: an activist to the end - Cape Argus

Last week, Asmal publicly slammed the government's proposed Protection of Information Bill, calling for it to be scrapped.

Communications Minister Roy Padayachie, referring to that call, said Asmal's recent comments on the bill would be "seriously considered", while other ministers agreed that Asmal's views had given the ANC food for thought.

Kader Asmal can perhaps best be seen as part of a distinguished line of South African Indian anti-Apartheid political activists whose most distinguished predecessor was Mahatma Gandhi. He was absolutely committed to non-violent political action and had a strong and idealistic belief in the power of international law and moral persuasion to bring about political change.

At a time when many law students considered "International Law" to be a contradiction in terms and a load of wishful thinking, he believed in the power of the UN and sanctions to bring about changes for the better in South Africa. I recall the very generous mark he gave to an essay of mine arguing that resolutions of the Security Council were binding on Member states even if the means of enforcing them were not always available.

Kader was an absolutely indefatigable political organiser and he, together with his wife Louise, turned the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement into the single most effective lobbying and protest group on the Irish political scene.

Kader Asmal « The Cedar Lounge Revolution

(the following is from a speech made by Louise Asmal about the Irish Anti Apartheid Movement)

"We had very little funding that we did not raise ourselves - and here I should pay tribute to the many musicians who sang for us at concerts, and often turned down lucrative offers to tour South Africa as well. Poets like Seamus Heaney read for us, Sean O'Casey and Samuel Beckett were among the first signatories of a list of playwrights who refused to allow their plays to be performed in South Africa.

But of course it was the sports boycott which aroused the most passion and the most controversy. (1969-'70 Springbok rugby tour - and the 1980 Lion's rugby tour to South Africa).

In 1984 Mary Manning, a young trade unionist working in a supermarket in Dublin, refused to register the sale of an Outspan grapefruit. She and 10 others who supported her were suspended, and went on strike for three and a half years. For those three and a half years we organized a Saturday picket outside the store, but management refused to respond to our letters and refused to meet us. In 1987 the Irish Government imposed sanctions on South African fruit and produce."

An apolitical colleague of mine at the time, John Robbie, was selected to play for the British and Irish Lions rugby tour to South Africa and travelled amid much popular opposition. He was forced to resign his job because Guinness had many investments and markets in black Africa and his involvement as an employee could have led to a boycott of Guinness products. He later settled in South Africa and became a prominent critic of the Apartheid Government as a radio commentator and talk show host.

With the end of Apartheid, Kader and Louise returned to South Africa where Kader was elected to the African National Congress' National Executive Committee. In 1993 he served as a member of the negotiating team of the African National Congress at the Multiparty Negotiating Forum and in 1994 he was elected to the National Assembly and joined the cabinet as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry.

I remember thinking at the time that he would have been disappointed not to get the Minister for Foreign Affairs or Justice portfolios given his passion for international affairs and the law.  However the government was dominated (totally understandably) by those who had remained in South Africa, and I have no doubt that Mandela had to perform a delicate balancing act in fashioning a cabinet representative of the racial and ethnic diversity within South Africa, not to mention the different ideological tendencies within the ANC, its Communist party allies, and coalition partners.

However the Water Ministry was a very important Ministry for the vast majority of rural dwelling South Africans many of whom had to carry water over several miles from the nearest well to their village, and I have no doubt Kader would have tackled the job with his customary energy and enthusiasm.

Thabo Mbeki later appointed him to the even more critical Education Ministry where his tenure was to be quite controversial.  I am not close enough to South African politics to judge whether he was a success in the post but have no doubt he would have tackled it with enthusiasm and dedication.  That South African education was in need of dramatic reform in the post apartheid era cannot be doubted given that many of the Soweto protests arose out of the resistance of young black south Africans to the imposition of the Afrikaaner language and curriculum.

I am not surprised, however, that he was surrounded in controversy, as it was simply not his style to take the "political" road of least resistance. He loved arguing and provoking people into examining their own assumptions and have little doubt he would have antagonised many along the way.  

As the ANC slowly morphed from being a revolutionary party to becoming a new establishment elite he became a thorn in the side of those whose idea of gaining power was to use it for their own benefit. He slowly became marginalised within the party elite and Government despite his standing as one of the veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Kader Asmal - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

On 5 October 2007, he severely criticised Robert Mugabe for the situation in Zimbabwe, lamenting that he had not spoken previously, at the launch of a book Through the Darkness -- A Life in Zimbabwe, by Judith Todd, daughter of former Southern Rhodesia prime minister Garfield Todd, an opponent of white minority rule under Ian Smith.[6]

Asmal resigned from parliament in 2008, in protest against the ANC's disbanding of the elite Scorpions anti-crime unit. He felt it was a poor decision, and that it was improper that politicians who had been investigated and found to be engaged in corruption by the Scorpions then took part in the vote to disband the organisation.[7]

Just six days before his death, Asmal called for the controversial Information Bill (also known as the "Secrecy Bill") to be scrapped[8]

As Chairman of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and co-founder of the Irish Civil Liberties Union Kader also had a not inconsiderable effect on the development of more radical strains in what was then a very conservative and moribund Irish polity. The subsequent emergence of Mary Robinson, and the current prominence of David Norris, gay activist and leading contender for the Irish Presidency is evidence that that tradition has not entirely died.

Go n-éirí an bóthar leat and my condolences to his family, and particularly to his wife, Louise Asmal, the unsung hero behind the Irish Anti-Apartheid movement.

Another South African émigré who inspired an interest in the injustices of Apartheid in me was Basil Moore, Editor/Author of a book on Black Theologywhich helped to popularise the writings of Steve Biko in the wider world a few years before Biko was so brutally murdered by the Apartheid regime. Basil, like the book he authored/edited, was banned by the Apartheid regime but managed to escape with his family after some harrowing experiences and later settled in Australia.

Eva Strauss was another émigré to get into trouble with the Apartheid regime, in her case for living with a black South African. Different times...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jun 26th, 2011 at 04:04:08 PM EST
The decisive and brilliant influence of Kader Asmal - The Irish Times - Tue, Jun 28, 2011
Kader was what a politician should be: deadly serious. He had to be. He was dealing with big stuff. The anti-apartheid cause to which he devoted his life was one of the great moral crusades of the second half of the 20th century. It was concerned with the obscenity of biologically-based power, of the idea that a few tiny genetic quirks entitled one group of people to rule and condemned others to be subservient. But the way the cause was pursued was almost as important as the cause itself. There was every reason to fear that the collision of a bone-headed white elite with an enraged black majority would lead to barbarism. Trying to ensure that it did not was an immense moral burden.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 27th, 2011 at 09:04:45 PM EST
The decisive and brilliant influence of Kader Asmal - The Irish Times - Tue, Jun 28, 2011
This was a tiny foretaste of the immeasurably more important role he played in the establishment of democracy in South Africa. He had a significant influence on its liberal constitution, maintained a passionate belief that the oppressed must not become oppressors and spoke out against failures by his own beloved ANC. Of how many others can it be said that they remained so faithful in power to the principles they enunciated in opposition?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 27th, 2011 at 09:06:12 PM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]