Kader Asmal was a fearless fighter for freedom and human rights and his death has weakened South Africa’s democracy, political parties and civil organisations said on Wednesday after the ANC veteran’s death in Cape Town.
President Jacob Zuma said Asmal made a “sterling” contribution to the struggle for liberation and sacrificed a lot in his life to ensure the attainment of freedom and democracy.
“He will be remembered for his energy, forthrightness, efficiency and commitment to making this country a better place each day. He will also always be remembered for his passion for human rights for all.”
Asmal, 76, died on Wednesday in Constantiaberg hospital in Cape Town. He was the minister of water affairs and forestry from 1994, a member of the ANC’s national executive committee, and education minister from 1999.
Asmal, although an ANC stalwart, never hesitated to criticise when he believed government was wrong.
He was occasionally publicly rebuked by the ANC after raising concerns about party stances he feared threatened democracy.
ID leader and Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said Asmal had fought for democracy up until the last week of his life.
“Up until the last week of his life, he had been fighting for the rights of South Africans.”
Just last week he voiced his strong opposition to the protection of information bill, urging all South Africans to reject the bill and warned the ANC that rushing it through parliament would destroy trust in the democratic process.
He said he had hoped the weight of public opposition to the so-called “secrecy bill” would by now have persuaded the relevant ministers and MPs “to take this appalling measure back to the drawing board”.
“Since this has not happened, my conscience will not let my silence be misunderstood. I ask all South Africans to join me in rejecting this measure in its entirety,” he said.
Worse than a farce
In 2009, Asmal described then deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula’s idea of militarising the police service as “craziness” and smacking of “low-level political decision-making”.
“The new administration is referring to the militarisation of the police,” he told the Cape Town Press Club.
“I have this former head of the youth league [Mbalula] who aspires to be secretary general of the ANC. Ha, really, I hope I won’t be alive.
“He said we must militarise the police. We spent days and days in 1991 to get away from the idea of a militarised police force. Extraordinary.
“This is a kind of craziness all of us have to take into account. It is part of that low-level political decision-making without reference to the Cabinet,” he said.
ANCYL leader Julius Malema, “tenderpreneurs”, and the National Youth Development Agency have also been the target of his criticism, with the NYDA being described as worse than a farce.
His criticism of government, however, did not deter the ANC from declaring him one of the party’s foremost intellectual giants upon news of his passing.
Spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said Asmal’s “immeasurable contribution in the liberation of South Africa” ensured that the ANC earned respect from the international community.
Tributes have also poured in from all elements of the political sphere, including opposition parties.
DA leader Helen Zille said Asmal represented the best of a generation of struggle heroes.
“Asmal was far more than a politician. He represented the best of a generation of struggle heroes who made unimaginable sacrifices to realise a democratic South Africa.”
Architect of democracy
Former president Thabo Mbeki called Asmal an outstanding fighter for the liberation of South Africa and one of the architects of democracy.
“All of us who knew and worked with him…could always depend on him as a steadfast fighter for the liberation and advancement of the interests of all South Africans,” he said.
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi described Asmal’s death as weakening democracy in South Africa.
“With his death the Republic has lost one of the most vigilant custodians of our freedom and constitutional order, who never feared to speak up on matters of principle,” he said.
“One of the greatest independent thinking and outspoken minds has left us.”
The SA Communist Party said Asmal loved robust debates and was always in search of new ideas.
“Although we did not always agree with his ideas as the SACP, we respected his intellectual contribution in the task of reconstructing and developing our country,” spokesperson Malesela Maleka said.
Cope co-founder Mbhazima Shilowa was shocked and saddened by Asmal’s death and described him as an icon and a legend.
“Asmal was one of the very few icons and legends who still upheld the founding values and principles of the democratic movement and the liberation struggle.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu paid tribute to how Asmal selflessly served the country.
“He served his people and his nation, without a thought of self-enrichment or aggrandisement,” he said.
“He added substance and vigour to whatever he did, from the international anti-apartheid movement, to the negotiations that gave birth to our democratic nation, and later, our Constitution; and from the cabinets in which he served under presidents Mandela and Mbeki, to the generations of academics and students he inspired, from Trinity College in Ireland to the University of the Western Cape.”
Tutu sent his condolences to Asmal’s family saying “if it is any consolation to them in this time of grief, one of the first people Kader will bump into in heaven is Albertina Sisulu. He is in good company”.
Credit to: News 24