Obituary – The ANC has lost another exemplary leader

2011-06-25 17:13

South Africa has lost two ­exemplary leaders in the past month and it is only ­fitting for the ANC to announce a focus on the values, discipline, commitment and respect of cadres such as Kader Asmal and Albertina Sisulu.

There is so much they and many others of their generation have taught us, and there is still so much more we can take with us. The ­values they stood for not only ­defined them, but defined and shaped the ANC – values that must become the organisation’s heartbeat once again.

The tributes that have poured in for Kader Asmal all reflect on a man who will be remembered for speaking out when he thought all was not well, even if it got him into trouble. He embodied non-racialism, and the people-centred and deeply democratic tradition of the organisation that shaped him.

When he was awarded the French Legion d’Honneur, he said: “I am a product of our struggle for freedom. Like my political movement, we have drawn inspiration from the intellectual and political patrimony of humanity, which has shaped the contours of our ­Constitution.”

That defined the Kader I know, who worked tirelessly in serving his movement and his people. His values provided him with a solid platform to work from.

His take on learning was admirable. He read extensively every day, whether Cabinet documents when he was still a minister, parliamentary submissions, letters, technical books, international ­reports and many, many novels.

Kader would return home to work. That was the distinguishing discipline that set him apart.

He could out-argue just about anyone, but he was also always open to a compelling, rational, counterargument.

He displayed compassion and empathy just as he could express outrage at anything unjust or ­discriminatory.

Intellectual engagement was ­always Kader’s deep and driving passion. When he returned from exile, he lived in Cape Town. He ­arrived as one of the great legal minds of the ANC with a very fierce reputation.

He was located at the University of the Western Cape and from there participated fervently in the work of refining the ANC’s ­constitutional principles.

It was this reputation that led to Kader standing around with a number of us who had been invited by Nelson Mandela to the Union Buildings on May 11 1994 to be ­assigned our Cabinet portfolios.

It was no secret that Kader was not overjoyed when he was ­assigned the water affairs and forestry portfolio. But he nonetheless ­attacked the portfolio with gusto.

He hauled out the RDP, calculated the number of miles of piping and taps that the country needed, and badgered Derek Keys and Chris Liebenberg, the then ­finance ministers, and Jay Naidoo for resources. Water had just ­become the sexiest portfolio.

But even with all the challenges in the portfolio, Kader had time to take on other responsibilities in ­Cabinet such as establishing the National Conventional Arms ­Control Committee.

Similarly, the Executive Ethics Code has Kader’s DNA embedded in it. Again, we should be reminded that his sterling contributions to the functioning of democracy and the strengthening of parliamentary oversight set Parliament apart.

Then he was deployed to the ­education portfolio after the 1999 election. Kader was one of the last to be called by the president and arrived home at 5.30am.

He seemed edgy and I couldn’t work out whether it was the joy of tackling education which, after law, was his great passion, or whether it was the sadness of his move from water affairs.

Few things in life can prepare an individual for such a huge change, but Kader was ready. Even he would admit that he found the ­going a bit tougher, but he attacked a number of the glaring problems with the same vigour as he did with his previous portfolio.

Objectively, it was just too hard and we would often talk about these difficulties and his frustrations until the early hours of the morning. The portfolio has been and still is very difficult.

Since 2004, he served as a ­Member of Parliament and not in the executive. At first he chaired the joint committee on defence. When South Africa chaired the ­Financial Action Task Force, a multilateral body that deals with the prevention of money laundering and ­terrorist financing, we picked the good professor for the job.

I thought it would be a stretch – law, water, arms control, ­parliamentary ethics, education and defence – but once again, ­Kader did us proud.

He gave new meaning to the title Member of Parliament and served the institution exceedingly well as a member of the executive and ­later as a member of the House. He introduced a quality and level of debate in the House that will ­forever be a record of history.

We will and must also remember him for those times he was also a challenging and even sometimes cantankerous character. Perhaps it was the lawyer in him; the lingering shadow of the teacher who stood in front of a class of impoverished youngsters back in the 1950s in semirural Natal; or perhaps it was the professor who, for 30 years, challenged his students in the hallowed halls of Trinity ­College in Dublin.

He set a wonderful example and gave us a lifetime of true service. Let this spirit live on forever.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.