Apartheid opponent and SA minister Kader Asmal dies aged 76

 

TÁNAISTE AND Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has led tributes to former African National Congress (ANC) minister Kader Asmal who has died at home in South Africa.

Prof Asmal, who was 76, had lived for almost three decades in Dublin, where he lectured in law at Trinity College Dublin. Among his students was former president Mary Robinson. During his time in Ireland, he founded the Irish anti-apartheid movement and was a noted human rights campaigner.

He became a prominent member of the ANC’s national executive committee in 1990 when he returned to South Africa. Having served as minister for education and minister for water affairs and forestry, he retired from parliament in 2007 to take up a law professorship at the University of the Western Cape.

“Kader was an outstanding man, an eminent scholar and a courageous politician who played a key part in the transformation of modern South Africa,” said Mr Gilmore. “He fought for the freedom of his native country. A freedom from racism and oppression . . . he remained to the end an outspoken voice in defence of the South African constitution – to which he contributed so much – and of human rights throughout the world.”

Mr Gilmore said that the ANC stalwart would be remembered in Ireland as the “inspirational leader” of its anti-apartheid movement and a key figure in political life. “He was an important contributor to the peace process on the island of Ireland,” the Tánaiste added.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said Prof Asmal was “always immensely grateful for his Irish experiences which he acknowledged influenced his approach to building the new South Africa”. She described him as a mentor and friend to a whole generation of Irish people, including herself.

Irish Human Rights Commission president Dr Maurice Manning also paid tribute. “The common thread running through his varied roles – as an activist, a teacher, a lawyer, a parliamentarian and a government minister – was a deep and abiding concern for his fellow human beings,” Dr Manning said. “He will be sorely missed.”

Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which Prof Asmal helped found in 1976, said the human rights community had lost one of its true champions. “Even after his elevation to ministerial office in South Africa, he continued to offer his active support to the ongoing struggle to secure full respect for human rights here in Ireland” added Mr Kelly.

Prof Asmal, who died from a heart attack, delivered the inaugural lecture at TCD’s Centre for Post-Conflict Justice in February last year. He is survived by his wife, Louise, their two sons and two grandchildren.