Alex Boraine remembered for advancing democracy in SA

Dr Alex Boraine with grandsons Angelo (left) and Mano.
Dr Alex Boraine with grandsons Angelo (left) and Mano.

"If it weren't for Alex Boraine, the institute for a democratic alternative would not have existed in South Africa."

This is according to Paul Graham, former executive director of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), an organisation Boraine founded in 1986 with Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, in "a formidable partnership", Graham said.

Boraine died in the early hours of Wednesday at the age of 87.

He was best known as the vice-chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu from 1996 to 1998.

Idasa's initial focus was to create an environment for white South Africans to talk to the then banned ANC before it was unbanned in 1990 by former president FW de Klerk.

'Long and successful life'

"He had a long and successful life of creating institutions aimed at advancing democracy and he will be remembered for that," Graham said.

"The TRC was instrumental in establishing democracy in South Africa."

Graham described Boraine as moral, serious and gifted with the ability to organise people.

"He was brave in taking decisions and doing what is right. He was courageous in allowing others to make their contributions – he never took the limelight."

Boraine's son Jeremy confirmed his death to News24 on Wednesday.

According to Jeremy, his father was in remission from cancer, but had been in decline of late.

"He had a fall a week ago and stopped eating. He just became weaker and weaker."

Jeremy said his father died between midnight and 02:00 on Wednesday at his home in a retirement village in Constantia, Cape Town.

'Loving and wise'

"We remember him first as a loving and wise husband, father and grandfather. We salute his lifelong dedication to non-racialism, human rights, democracy and social justice in South Africa and around the world. Most of all he inspired us with his passion for life and his big heart," Boraine's family said in a statement.

After being ordained as a Methodist minister in 1956, Boraine furthered his studies at Rhodes University, Oxford University in the UK and Drew University in the US.

In 1970 he was appointed as the youngest-ever president of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

He was elected to Parliament as an MP for the Progressive Party in 1974.

Following his resignation in 1986, he and Van Zyl Slabbert founded Idasa.

Idasa paved the way to talks with the ANC by organising the historic 1987 Dakar Conference in Senegal. Idasa's delegation consisted of 61 people, at least half of them being Afrikaner academics, teachers, journalists, artists, directors, writers and professionals who met with an ANC delegation led by former president Thabo Mbeki.

A life of achievements

It was the first public step towards engaging with the ANC and was seen as a major contribution to establishing democracy in South Africa.

From 1998, Boraine was a professor of law at New York University and director of the New York University Law School's Justice in Transition Programme.

In October 2000 Boraine was awarded the President's Medal for Human Rights in Italy.

In November 2000, Boraine published the book A Country Unmasked.

Boraine was one of the founders and president of the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) in New York. 

He returned to South Africa to take over as chair of the ICTJ's Cape Town branch in June 2004.

Boraine was a Global Visiting Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law's Hauser Global Law School Programme.

Boraine's biography, A Life in Transition, was published in 2008.

In 2014, Boraine was awarded The Order of the Baobab in Silver "for his excellent contribution to the field of social justice and being a courageous proponent of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission".

Sources: Wikipedia, SA History Online, The Presidency

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