He Would Have Been Heartened by Activism the New Kader Asmal Human Rights Award

Cape Times (South Africa), May 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

He Would Have Been Heartened by Activism the New Kader Asmal Human Rights Award


BYLINE: Louise Asmal Lawson Naidoo Executive Secretary of CASAC

It's nearly two years since Kader died, two years which have passed in a rush of memorials, meetings and launches of his book, Politics in my Blood. But the launch of the Human Rights Award by Casac is, I feel, among the most important events since Kader's death. It honours one of the great passions of his life, the furthering of human rights and his dedication to freedom, equality and justice.

As a young man, Kader was deeply influenced by Chief Albert Luthuli, who lived near his birthplace, Stanger, in Kwa-Zulu-Natal. Luthuli wrote once: "I personally believe that here in South Africa, with all our diversities of colour and race, we will show the world a new pattern of democracy. I think there is a challenge to us in South Africa to set a new example for the world. We can build a homogenous South Africa on the basis not of colour but of human values."

This vision resonated with Kader and he directed his life towards its realisation. He helped draft the Bill of Rights in our constitution, first as a member of the ANC's Constitutional Committee and later as a member of the Constitutional Assembly. He often quoted the first clause of the founding provisions of the constitution, which states that South Africa is founded on "human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms".

He had a huge variety of experiences to draw upon. In Ireland he helped advise the Social Democratic and Labour Party of John Hume, and sat on the Board of Trinity College, Dublin (where he was a law lecturer) representing the Faculty of Arts - a mixum gatherum of law, fine arts and a couple of other departments which did not fit into the main academic clusters. He was an unpaid adviser to several trade unions, which he assisted by revising their constitutions, and was a key protagonist in establishing the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

At one stage he was invited to participate in an "undercover group" convened by a Catholic priest, which met to discuss the issue of divorce - the invitations were delivered clandestinely in a brown envelope, the only brown envelope he ever approved of!

He was sent to Brussels by the Irish government to represent the country in discussions over harmonising Irish labour law with the EU rules (we had hoped for some financial profit from this, but as I recall, most of it went on buying Belgian truffles for me). And, of course, he was for most of its existence, chairman of the Irish anti-apartheid movement.

It is remarkable, too, that for all his intellectual brilliance and his involvement in the big issues of the day, he was always accessible to the individual with a human rights problem.

In the last few months of his life he was unhappy about the growing corruption in South Africa and the governing party's impatience when our constitution threatened to impede its plans - notably the so-called secrecy bill.

He would, however, have been heartened by the growing confidence and activism of civil society. He publicly welcomed and endorsed Casac's "red card corruption" campaign calling for an independent anti-corruption agency.

He wrote (FinWeek, March 31, 2011) "... corruption appears to be on the increase and it presents a serious threat to our democratic order. …

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He Would Have Been Heartened by Activism the New Kader Asmal Human Rights Award
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