|Intro||South African politician|
8 October 1934
22 June 2011
|Politics||African National Congress|
Abdul Kader Asmal (8 October 1934 – 22 June 2011) was a South African politician. He was a professor of human rights at the University of the Western Cape, chairman of the council of the University of the North and vice-president of the African Association of International Law. He was married to Louise Parkinson and has two sons. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, received a doctorate Honoris Causa from Queen’s University Belfast (1996) and was a laureate of the 2000 Stockholm Water Prize. He died 22 June 2011 after suffering a heart attack.
Asmal grew up in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, the son of an Indian shopkeeper and one of seven children. When he was a school-boy, he met Chief Albert Luthuli, who inspired him towards human rights.
Asmal’s political development first began in 1952 with the Defiance Campaign when he was asked to become the secretary of the local rate payers association. This exposed him to the local Indian community’s efforts at dealing with apartheid when the government tried to enforce the Group Areas Act in Stanger.
Later in 1952 Asmal left Stanger to attend the Springfield Teacher Training College in Durban. After graduating as a teacher in 1954 he was assigned to an all-Indian school in Darnall, KwaZulu-Natal. While at Darnall he registered for a bachelor’s degree by correspondence in English, politics, and history at UNISA.
In 1959, Asmal qualified as a teacher, moved to London where he enrolled at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Asmal was the founder of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement. He claimed that while he was in Ireland in the late 1970s, he assisted the ANC to find Irish Republican Army volunteers who did reconnaissance on South Africa’s Sasolburg refinery, which was then bombed by the ANC’s military wing in 1980.
While in London he started the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and when he joined the Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland as a teacher of human rights, labour and international law, he started the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement. Asmal qualified as a barrister in both the London and Dublin Bars and received degrees from both the London School of Economics (LL.M. (Lond.)) and Trinity College, Dublin (M.A. (Dubl.)).
He was a lecturer in law at Trinity College for 27 years, specializing in human rights, labour, and international law. Asmal served on the African National Congress’ (ANC) constitutional committee from 1986. He was a board member of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.
Minister of Water Affairs
In 1990, Asmal returned to South Africa and shortly afterwards 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. In May 1994, he was elected to the National Assembly, and joined the cabinet as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry.
In 1996, the World Wide Fund for Nature-South Africa awarded Asmal their Gold Medal for his conservation work. During his tenure he supported the Global Water Partnership of which he was a Patron. As Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry he spearheaded the recognition of the concept of “the environment as a prime water user.” While serving as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, he also served as the chairman of the World Commission on Dams (1997–2001). His work as Minister of Water Affairs is widely regarded as successful, much of that success being attributed to Asmal’s ability to work with the then still largely Afrikaner-dominated civil service.
Minister of Education
Although Asmal was not as close to President Mbeki as he was to President Nelson Mandela, he was promoted to Minister of Education in 1999, after the South African general elections that saw Mbeki elected to power. Among his initiatives as Minister of Education was the launching in 2001 of the South African History Project “to promote and enhance the conditions and status of the learning and teaching of history in the South African schooling system, with the goal of restoring its material position and intellectual purchase in the classroom”.
Given the vast inequalities in the education system inherited from the Apartheid regime, this post was seen by many as a poisoned chalice. After rolling back some of the ANC’s more ambitious education policies so as to make his brief more realistic, he managed to introduce some of the most significant and far-reaching changes to the country’s education system in its history. One of his most controversial moves as Minister of Education was to threaten South African universities with quotas should they fail to apply affirmative action policies to their students and staff. In 2004, Asmal left government but would stay on in parliament until 2008.
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.
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.
Asmal called for the controversial Information Bill (also known as the “Secrecy Bill”) to be scrapped.
He published an autobiography, Politics in my Blood.