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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Asmal, Kader

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If it is possible to sum up a life as busy and varied as Kader Asmal's in two words, those must be: human rights. Asmal has spent his entire life trying to understand, defend and advance human rights.

The seeds of this lifelong passion were sown in childhood. Growing up in the country town of Stanger in the '40s and '50s, Asmal became acutely aware of racism. He first felt its sting as a teenager, when he was chased away from a 'white' shop where he had gone to buy a newspaper.

Asmal, who was born on October 8, 1934, grew up in a lively, lower middle-class home. His mother kept house; his father was a shopkeeper, a shop assistant and unemployed, in that order. Although they were not political, his parents encouraged debate among their eight children.

The decisive moment in his political growth, recalls Asmal, was seeing footage of Nazi concentration camp victims. Then and there he decided he would be a lawyer, so that he could oppose the Nazi mentality. Slowly, over the years, he drew the connection between what had happened in faraway Europe and life under apartheid.

Perhaps the most vivid moment of the Defiance Campaign era for Asmal, as a politicised matric pupil, was seeing the Campaign's leaders marching in prison uniforms through the dusty streets of Stanger. He responded by leading the school stay-at-home.

In 1953 Asmal went to Durban to do a teacher's diploma. Here he came into contact with the Congress movement and strengthened his links with his mentor, ANC President Albert Luthuli, who had been banned and restricted to Groutville, near Stanger. Luthuli's humanism, courage and warmth introduced Asmal to the non-racial heritage of the ANC, which he is still proud to claim as his own.

He went overseas to study law in 1959. In 1963 he graduated as a lawyer from the London School of Economics. Not being able to return to South Africa because of his political activities, he immediately accepted a teaching post at Trinity College. He spent the next 25 years in Dublin, lecturing in law and rising to be Dean of the Faculty of Arts.

Through all these years Asmal campaigned steadfastly on behalf of the ANC. He was a founder member of both the British and Irish anti-apartheid movements and a long- serving chairperson of the latter. He worked for SANROC and was vice-president of IDAF. He also added his efforts to civil rights campaigns in other parts of the world, including Palestine and Northern Ireland, and served on international legal commissions.

He still found time to publish widely, to compile reports for international organisations like the UN, and to speak on South Africa at conferences the world over. No wonder his prodigious energies have earned him the nickname "The Bee".

In 1983 he received the Prix Unesco in recognition of his work in the advancement of human rights. He also received awards for water (Sweden), environment, etc. He has been conferred with seven honorary degrees in Ireland, Britain and South Africa.

Asmal returned to South Africa in September 1990 and became Professor of Human Rights at UWC. He saw his major tasks as popularising a culture of human rights at all levels of society by serving on the ANC's structures, especially the NEC, and through his chairing of the Council of the University of the North, to which he was appointed in December 1992.

In the April 1994 general election Asmal was number 4 on the ANC's national list for the National Assembly and became a member of parliament. He was appointed Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in May 1994.

He was appointed as a minister of Education in the June 1999 elections.

He is the Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Defence and represented South Africa at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris. In 2005 he will be President of FATF.

Member, National Executive Committee, ANC Member, Constitutional Committee, ANC Member of Parliament, ANC Former Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry (1994 - 1999) Former Minister of Education (1999 - 2004)

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.