Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Kader Asmal - a personal post

This post is not about media, communications or the internet... please forgive the digression. This is not, usually, a political or a personal blog. But of course politics affects everything and politics in South Africa has been and often continues to be, a matter of life and death. And South African political history is also for me, personal.

This evening I learnt that Professor Kader Asmal, ANC leader, former Minister and human rights lawyer, had passed away. As I write, I'm listening to Jackson Mthembu, the ANC's Spokesman, on the radio at the moment speaking of how Kader 'embodied the values of the ANC'. He asked: 'How do we learn from Mandela, how do we learn from the Sisulu's and how do we learn from the Kader Asmals of this world about maintaining those values?'

I was at Kader and Louise's wedding as a baby. After the last time I saw him in March, he sent me a photograph of me at his wedding. He was a close friend of my mother's, the Godfather of my daughter and throughout my life, he was a kind and generous mentor. I will miss him greatly and tonight I'm thinking about his family - Louise his wife who was not only his partner in life but his partner in all his political work, and their children, Rafiq and Adam.

On the last occasion I saw him, we discussed his birthday in 1995, the year Kader turned sixty. It was one year into the first democratic parliament, and Kader held his party at the Parliamentary Sports Club in Newlands, Cape Town. On the walls were pictures of white MP's cricket teams. My mother had died about a year before, so he asked me tol speak on her behalf in a way. I was in very august company I remember and very nervous. Thabo Mbheki and Julius Nyerere I remember were amongst the speakers. But what made the biggest impression on me was the audience. Most were now MPs. For the first time earning a salary for what they had previously spent their lives doing as volunteers. Many of course had risked lives, or been imprisoned. The person I remember best is the late Ma Ellen Kuwayo, who I knew little. A woman then in her late sixties I think who had been a member of the Soweto Committee of Ten, trying to protect her own children and their comrades who had taken to the streets in 1976. And now she was a politician! Now she could pass laws!

I remember looking at this group and comparing it to the politicians I knew and had followed in Britain - a professional class, an elite. I looked around that room that evening and saw all kinds of people - none of whom could really have been described as career politicians. And I remember thinking what a wonderful source of strength this body politic was - one made up of people who had chosen values over self interest. And that is only sixteen years ago. And it could be another age.

Kader frustrated many people. Me too sometimes. He could have listening failures of huge proportions. But no one I ever heard criticise him ever challenged his values. No one ever acused him of modesty, but he and Louise have lived in the same modest house they moved into when he returned to South Africa. He was always curious. He was honest. As a child and as an adult, Kader would debate with me, as he did with everyone. Like others of his generation of political leaders I grew up with, he believed that analysis and debate could change the world.

Listening to the calls on the radio I hear the same nostalgia I heard after Albertina Sisulu passed away a few weeks ago. We miss a generation of leaders who sacrificed and who expected no payback. The current generation of leaders of course do not measure up. It is probably not a reasonable standard. But as I mourn Kader's passing, I mourn the loss of that standard too.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Indra
    Thank you for your wonderful recollections of a wonderful man. He was my professor and also a mentor. I share your loss and salute him.
    I also wrote a blog post about him yesterday.