Wednesday 21 March 2018

Kader Asmal

The leader of Ireland's Anti-Apartheid Movement who taught law at Trinity and later served in the ANC government

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.

Sunday Independent

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