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SAHRC mourns the passing away of Professor Kader Asmal
Date: Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Commission joins the rest of the world to mourn the passing away of human rights activist, constitutionalist, and former Cabinet Minister, Prof. Kader Asmal, who passed away yesterday after suffering a heart attack.

Despite the sadness of the occasion, however, it is also an opportunity to celebrate the life and contribution of Kader Asmal to the anti-apartheid struggle and to the development and progress of South African society in general.

The Commission’s Chairperson Adv. Lawrence Mushwana says that the Commission will remember Prof. Asmal for his tireless service and life-long dedication to the creation of a free South Africa, particularly his involvement in the drafting and subsequent defence of the South African Constitution. The Commission will always draw lessons and inspiration from his fearless and principled defence of human rights and the independence of Chapter Nine institutions during his post-retirement days.

Of the many quotable statements that Prof. made in defence of human rights, Adv. Mushwana remembers the one Prof. Asmal made on his retirement from parliament in 2008, “Human rights are never static, they are always dynamic. They are never completely won, just as they are never completely lost. In our defence of them, we too cannot afford to stand still. We must never allow complacency. We need constantly to seek to improve how and by what means we can promote and protect the rights set out in our own Bill of Rights.”

He added that “our Constitution is not a dead document. It applies to all of us today; it urges us to care for all who live in our country, and to work towards a better life for all. It is our collective pledge. In other words, it embodies values which this House [of Parliament] must respect, and which permeate the laws we pass and indeed every aspect of our lives. It is a living instrument that enlarges our freedoms and restricts our power to act arbitrarily.”

Reminiscing on how he got involved in the struggle against apartheid Prof. Asmal said “My journey began over 60 years ago with my relationship with Albert Luthuli and was inspired by his vision of a free, non-racial South Africa with justice and equal rights for all. It was he who drew my attention to the struggle and indivisibility of human rights after I had seen the practices and the merciless cruelty of the Nazis in the concentration camps - inflicted on Jews, Slaves, communists [and] homosexuals alike - in a supposedly civilised country.”

Adv. Mushwana also remembers how former President Nelson Mandela praised Prof. Asmal during the celebration of his 75th birthday last year when he said: “Few people have the knowledge and experience to compare with you and you have become an expert on so many subjects that your wealth of knowledge is an asset to our movement and our country. The sacrifices you have made and the role that you played will remain in our history books forever. We thank you and we hope that you will not only celebrate your birthday but also your outstanding achievements.”

The Commission expresses its condolences to the family that survives Prof Asmal, particularly his wife Louise Parkinson, his sons and his grandchildren.

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