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Human rights activist Rhoda Kadalie, 68, has died

16 April 2022

Human rights activist Rhoda Kadalie, 68, has died after a battle with lung cancer.

Her daughter, Julia Pollak, confirmed the death to News24.

Kadalie died in her sleep, at her home, surrounded by her loved ones.

She was born in Cape Town in 1953, but was living with Pollak in Los Angeles, USA, since 2018.

Kadalie was active in the struggle against apartheid.

After democracy, she served in President Nelson Mandela's administration as a commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission.

She was previously a director at the Impumelelo Centre for Social Innovation, an organisation which supports private-public partnerships in poor communities.

She was also an active political commentator until shortly before her death.

Having always shown a passion for promoting women's rights, Kadalie was instrumental in establishing the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape in 1973.

Dr Mary Hames, who was Kadalie's successor at the unit, described her as "fierce and fearless".

Hames said:
What she has done for women, not only at the university, but countrywide, is immeasurable.

She established the unit at time when "gender issues were not regarded as important", said Hames.

Her work saw gender and sexual harassment policies developed at the university, as well as equal pay.

She also fought for women to be promoted to professorships and for female representation in leadership bodies.

"There was a time when there were hardly any non-governmental organisations in South Africa that didn't have a former student of Rhoda's fighting for women's rights and feminism," said Hames.

Kadalie's son-in-law, Joel Pollak, is a Republican politician and recently wrote a biography about her.

He said, in a recent article, that Kadalie "rejected political correctness, and was at her sharpest when criticising the South African media, academia and corporate leaders".

"A committed Christian, Rhoda has also spoken out throughout her life for gay and lesbian rights… Rhoda has a unique ability to embrace political contradictions.

"Her approach to democracy is pragmatic, not ideological: she favours a diversity of views, even ones she dislikes because it gives citizens the most leverage to hold politicians accountable," he said.

Kadalie's brother, Bruce, said the family was deeply saddened by her passing.

"You lived a large and extraordinary life, and impacted so many people in ways that are invaluable. We shall miss you and you will never be forgotten," said Bruce.

Source: News24

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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