An inspiring memoir

2011-11-09 00:00

The late Kader Asmal was an extraordinary man. He combined a great intellect with passion and exuberance for all that he tackled. He had heart and a deep, abiding love for

humanity. This shone through in his anti-apartheid work while in exile, and in his role as a cabinet minister in the first years of South Africa’s democracy.

His appeal also had to do with his wonderful way with words and a witty sense of humour. All in all, Asmal was one of the most engaging figures of the new South Africa. Fortunately this legacy will not be lost, as it is captured in his well-written memoir, Politics in my blood.

The book is part biography and part history because Asmal, who played an integral part in South Africa’s transition, offers an insider’s view to some of the behind-the-scenes happenings and the personalities involved. He described Mbeki as frosty and does not have much to say about current President Jacob Zuma. He noted that Zuma was among those cabinet colleagues who seldom bothered to read cabinet memos and documents … “their collective lethargy was lamentable, he wrote.

Asmal starts off with a colourful account of his growing up in the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Stanger. This sets the pace for the rest of his story. There are sections that stand out. Asmal was a professor of law and his love for the law and its intricacies is clearly evident. He makes the process of crafting South Africa’s first Constitution sound fascinating. He saw it as a living document and it is no wonder that in his later years he felt deeply disappointed that “the ANC that has been my whole life” had wavered in its mission. In the prologue of the book, he wrote: “The heady principles and morals we championed even unto death appear to have been tarnished by the complacency and acquisitiveness of power. Some leaders have become greedy, self-serving and cynical, and the serpents of ethnicity and populism have wound their powerful coils around our ankles.”

Another interesting chapter is on his taking over the Ministry of Water Affairs and Forestry, which highlights the complexity of South Africa’s transition. He sets the record straight that he was not the architect of the dreaded outcomes-based education system. It was a curriculum he inherited from his predecessor.

Asmal died before completing the book and the final chapter was written by his beloved wife Louise, who clearly anchored his life and allowed his spirit to soar.

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