Death of a liberation legend

2010-03-13 00:00

LIBERATION struggle veteran and ANC stalwart Fatima Meer died in hospital yesterday afternoon.

eThekwini Municipality Deputy Mayor Logie Naidoo, a family friend, said Meer (81) was admitted to Durban’s St Augustine’s hospital early this month after experiencing severe chest pains and headaches, and then suffered a stroke.

She was well respected for her role during the struggle for liberation.

Her brother, Dr Farouk Meer, said he was at her hospital bedside most of the time until she succumbed to her illness.

“Ever since I’ve been to see her in hospital, she has made no meaningful recovery. She went down gradually until yesterday morning, when her condition deteriorated. We will remember her as a person of absolute integrity, honesty and morality. She fought for freedom and made sacrifices in the process,” said Dr Meer.

He said after 1994, his sister did not rest on her laurels, but continued to fight for the implementation of the policies meant to better the lives of the people.

South African film producer Anant Singh described Meer as a shining light and defender of women’s rights.

“She was one of the most exceptional women that I have ever met. We have been blessed to have had her in our lives and I am thankful for having her be a part of my life for the past 30 years,” Singh said in a statement.

Born in Durban on August 12, 1928, the former SABC board member and sociologist, despite crippling banning orders, built up a reputation as a prolific academic and a powerful advocate of gender equality.

She survived an apparent assassination attempt by apartheid hit-men in 1977, and attacks in later years.

She attended Natal University, gaining a Masters degree in Social Sciences.

She was also the recipient of three honorary doctorates: in Philosophy from Swarthmore College (U.S.) in 1984; in Humane Letters from Bennet College (U.S.) in 1994; and in Social Sciences from her alma mater in 1998.

Her books included the compelling The trial of Andrew Zondo, the story of an executed ANC guerrilla, and Higher Than Hope, a biography of Nelson Mandela.

She was principal of what has been described as a brave but ill-fated social experiment in the 1980s, the Phambili School, where she found herself at the centre of a row over mismanagement.

She founded the Institute for Black Research at Natal University, which raised the ire of her one-time fellow student Mangosuthu Buthelezi by publishing the first research to conclude that Inkatha was destabilising Natal.

She also branched into script-writing: her account of Mahatma Gandhi’s experiences in South Africa was funded by the Indian government and bought by the SABC.

She boycotted Salman Rushdie’s abortive tour to South Africa in 1998, claiming he was a blasphemer, and returned from a 1984 trip to Iran a passionate apologist for that country’s Islamic revolution.

More recently, she became a patron of the Jubilee 2000 movement that has campaigned for writing-off of third-world debt.

She was among 104 South Africans, including Govan Mbeki, Harry Oppenheimer and Miriam Makeba, honoured with the Order for Meritorious Service by then-president Nelson Mandela.

In mid-1995 she underwent serious heart surgery and lost her son Rashid, who was a highly regarded BBC radio journalist, in a car crash.

She underwent a triple heart bypass in 1998, and Mandela was one of the first to welcome her home.

She is survived by two daughters, Shehnaaz, who is a land claims court judge, and Shamin, a social science consultant.

Meer’s body was taken to her home in Burnwood Road yesterday afternoon.

At 12.30 pm today her body will be taken to the exhibition centre in Durban for an inter-denominational religious service until 3 pm.

At 3.30 pm the body will be taken to the Grey Street Mosque.

Last night the provincial government was communicating with the presidency to declare Meer’s a state funeral.

Premier Zweli Mkhize’s spokesman Ndabe Sibiya said Meer deserves that status as she made a tremendous contribution to the liberation struggle.

“She has made her mark as a true South African and has mentored many leaders across the political spectrum,” said Sibiya.




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