African National Congress veteran Kader Asmal has died. He was 76. He passed away at the Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic in Cape Town yesterday afternoon after a heart attack and slipping into a coma. He is survived by his wife, Louise Parkinson, and two sons from a previous marriage.
Asmal was the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry from 1994 and education minister from 1999. From 1995 to 2004 he also headed the National Conventional Arms Control Committee. From 2005 to his death he was also president of the (counter-terrorist) anti-money laundering Financial Action Task Force South Africa.
He was born on October 8, 1934, to a middle-class family in Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal. Asmal later recalled that the decisive moment in his political growth was when he saw footage of Nazi concentration camp victims. That prompted his decision to become a lawyer, so he could oppose the Nazi mentality, which he likened to apartheid, the South African Press Association reports in its obituary of the pugnacious former minister.
In his matric year he saw the Defiance Campaign’s leaders marching in prison uniforms through his town’s streets. His response was to lead a stay-away from his school. Asmal met ANC president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Chief Albert Luthuli while still at school.
After starting his studies for his teacher’s diploma in Durban in 1953, he strengthened his ties with Luthuli, his mentor, who had been banned and restricted to Groutville, near Stanger. While teaching, Asmal obtained a BA degree through the University of South Africa.
In 1959 he went abroad to study law. He graduated from the London School of Economics four years later. Because of his political activities he was not allowed to return to South Africa. Instead he accepted a teaching post at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He spent the next 27 years lecturing there, specialising in human rights, labour and international law. In 1980 he was appointed dean of the arts faculty.
Asmal was a member of both the London and Dublin bars and obtained two master’s degrees during this time. He was a founder member of both the British and Irish Anti-Apartheid Movements, and chaired the latter for nearly three decades. He also served as vice-president of the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa from 1968 to 1982, and as president of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties between 1976 and 1990, SAPA noted.
He was involved with civil rights campaigns elsewhere in the world, including Northern Ireland and Palestine. Asmal participated in a number of international inquiries into human rights violations.
In 1983 he was awarded the Prix Unesco of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in recognition for his work in the advancement of human rights.
Having served on the ANC’s constitutional committee since its establishment in 1986, he returned to South Africa in 1990 and was appointed professor of human rights at the University of the Western Cape. He also chaired the board of the University of the North.
Asmal was elected to the ANC’s national executive committee in 1991 and was one of the party’s delegates to the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), as well as the subsequent Multi-Party Negotiating Forum.
Asmal left Parliament in 2008 to protest the disbanding of the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO, better known as the “Scorpions”), an agency of the National Prosecuting Authority. He then took up a post at the University of the Western Cape where he was professor extraordinary in the faculty of law.