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Kader Asmal

Kader Asmal
Minister of Education
In office
Preceded by Sibusiso Bengu
Succeeded by Naledi Pandor
Member of Parliament
In office
1994 – 2008[1]
Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry
In office
Personal details
Born (1934-10-08)8 October 1934
Died 22 June 2011(2011-06-22) (aged 76)
Political party African National Congress

Abdul Kader Asmal (8 October 1934 – 22 June 2011)[2] was a South African politician. He was a professor of human rights at the University of the Western Cape, chairman of the council of the University of the North and vice-president of the African Association of International Law. He was married to Louise Parkinson and has two sons. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, received a doctorate Honoris Causa from Queen's University Belfast (1996) and was a laureate of the 2000 Stockholm Water Prize. He died 22 June 2011 after suffering a heart attack.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Legal career 2
  • Political career 3
    • Minister of Water Affairs 3.1
    • Minister of Education 3.2
    • Later years 3.3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life

Asmal grew up in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, the son of an Indian shopkeeper and one of seven children.[1] While still a school-boy he met Chief Albert Luthuli who inspired him towards human rights.[3]:29

Asmal's political development first began in 1952 with the Defiance Campaign when he was asked to become the secretary of the local rate payers association. This exposed him to the local Indian community's efforts at dealing with apartheid when the government tried to enforce the Group Areas Act in Stanger.[3]:20

Later in 1952 Asmal left Stanger to attend the Springfield Teacher Training College in Durban. After graduating as a teacher in 1954 he was assigned to an all-Indian school in Darnall, KwaZulu-Natal. While at Darnall he registered for a bachelor's degree by correspondence in English, politics, and history at UNISA.[3]:24–26

In 1959, Asmal qualified as a teacher, moved to London where he enrolled at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Legal career

While in London he started the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and when he joined the Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland as a teacher of human rights, labour and international law, he started the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement. Asmal qualified as a barrister in both the London and Dublin Bars and received degrees from both the London School of Economics (LL.M. (Lond.)) and Trinity College, Dublin (M.A. (Dubl.)). He was a lecturer in law at Trinity College for 27 years, specializing in human rights, labour, and international law. Asmal served on the African National Congress' constitutional committee from 1986. He was a board member of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.[4]

Political career

Minister of Water Affairs

In 1990, Asmal returned to South Africa and shortly afterwards was elected to the African National Congress' National Executive Committee. In 1993, he served as a member of the negotiating team of the African National Congress at the Multiparty Negotiating Forum. In May 1994, he was elected to the National Assembly, and joined the cabinet as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry.

In 1996, the World Wide Fund for Nature-South Africa awarded Asmal their Gold Medal for his conservation work. During his tenure he supported the Global Water Partnership of which he was a Patron. As Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry he spearheaded the recognition of the concept of "the environment as a prime water user."[5] While serving as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, he also served as the chairman of the World Commission on Dams (1997–2001). His time as Minister of Water Affairs is widely regarded as being very successful. Much of that success being attributed to Asmal's dynamism and ability to work with the then still largely Afrikaner dominated civil service.[1]

Minister of Education

Although Asmal was not as close to President Mbeki as he was to President Nelson Mandela[1] he was promoted to Minister of Education in 1999, after the South African general elections that saw Mbeki elected to power.[6] Among his initiatives as Minister of Education was the launching in 2001 of the South African History Project "to promote and enhance the conditions and status of the learning and teaching of history in the South African schooling system, with the goal of restoring its material position and intellectual purchase in the classroom".[7]

Given the vast inequalities in the education system inherited from the Apartheid regime this post was seen by many as a poisoned chalice. After rolling back some of the ANC's more ambitious education policies so as to make his brief more realistic he managed to introduce some of the most significant and far reaching changes to the country's education system in its history. One of his most controversial moves as Minister of Education was to threaten South African universities with quotas should they fail to apply affirmative action policies to their students and staff.[1] In 2004 Asmal left government but would stay on in parliament until 2008.[1]

Later years

On 5 October 2007, he severely criticised Robert Mugabe for the situation in Zimbabwe, lamenting that he had not spoken previously, at the launch of a book Through the Darkness — A Life in Zimbabwe, by Judith Todd, daughter of former Southern Rhodesia prime minister Garfield Todd, an opponent of white minority rule under Ian Smith.[8]

Asmal resigned from parliament in 2008, in protest against the ANC's disbanding of the elite

  • Video of Kader Asmal interviewed by Robert Vassen, Durban, South Africa, December 2004

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Kader Asmal obituary". The Guardian. 23 June 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2012. 
  2. ^  
  3. ^ a b c Asmal, Kader & Hadland, Adrian (2011). Kader Asmal: Politics in My Blood - A Memoir. Johannesburg: Jacana.  
  4. ^ Centre for Human Rights Board Members Retrieved 25 June 2011
  5. ^ (24 September 1997) "South African Water Minister to Head New World Commission on Dams" at the Wayback Machine (archived February 8, 2005)
  6. ^ Vergnani, Linda (9 July 1999) "Education Minister in South Africa Seeks Better Training for Aspiring Teachers" Chronicle of Higher Education 45(44) p. A45
  7. ^ "Speech by the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, at the launch of the South African History Project", Old Fort, Johannesburg, 27 August 2001
  8. ^ Asmal breaks ANC ranks on Zimbabwe Business Day
  9. ^ "Why Kader Asmal resigned from Parliament". Mail & Guardian. 29 October 2008. Retrieved 22 June 2011. 
  10. ^ "Asmal calls for withdrawal of Information Bill". EWN. 23 June 2011. Retrieved 22 June 2011. 


Asmal called for the controversial Information Bill (also known as the "Secrecy Bill") to be scrapped.[10]


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