Eulogy by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at the memorial service of Professor Kader Asmal, Cape Town
30 June 2011
Mrs Louise Asmal and the Asmal Family;
Comrades and friends;
Fellow South Africans:
On behalf of the people and the Government of South Africa, I wish to convey deepest condolences to you, Mrs Louise Asmal and the Asmal family, for the loss of a loving husband, a father and a grandfather.
Though it may not be possible for us to fully feel your pain as a family, our hearts go out to you and we wish you enough strength of spirit to see you through this loss.
I would also like to thank you for making it possible for all of us, government and the whole South African family, to mourn our comrade, brother, friend, leader and fellow South African, Professor Kader Asmal.
The agony that enveloped our country immediately after Professor Kader Asmal 's demise told a story of a grief-stricken nation.
Coming soon after our country has just laid to rest Mama Albertina Sisulu, yet another adorable human being who put her life at the service of our freedom, the passing on of Professor Kader Asmal has deepened our collective pain as a nation.
Both these leaders epitomised a spirit of a particular era in our history: an era imbued with a deep spirit of human solidarity and an abiding sense of selflessness in advancing this vision.
This was an era that mobilised millions of South Africans to pursue the vision of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, just and prosperous South Africa.
Out of these humanist conditions, superior in form and content to the atavistic ruling system that clutched our nation in its fangs, issued forth a number of moral Titans - among these was Kader Asmal.
In trying to understand Professor Kader Asmal 's life it is therefore important to remember that the emergence of such an iconic champion of freedom was no coincidence.
It flowed directly from active efforts and huge sacrifices of those who set themselves the task of constructing an alternative future.
Many consciously refused to go along with the odious spirit of racial divisions, leaving the relative comforts of their social position to cast their lot with the call for a truly united and equal South Africa, irrespective of race, gender or class.
This galaxy of leadership from across the spectrum of society considered it their historical duty and political responsibility to unite all South Africans for a common future.
It is also worth noting that Kader Asmal was inspired into joining the ANC by the then President-General of the African National Congress, Chief Albert Luthuli, a moral and principled leader who was a resolute advocate for human rights.
Coming out of this background, Professor Kader Asmal lived his life to realise this system of thought that put much store by human rights, equality and dignity, in both our political, social and economic outlook.
Even in his retirement he continued to infuse our age with these exalted values that have sustained his life as a freedom fighter as well as during the building of a post-apartheid social landscape.
In and of itself loss of human life is a painful experience. Yet when we lose a human being such as Kader Asmal we feel the pain on different levels of existence.
At a personal level many of us can affirm that his long remarkable life has left an indelible mark in different areas of our lives.
And so as many who have had the privilege to interact with Professor Kader Asmal know, he will be missed as a person first and foremost.
Professor Asmal was a human being with extraordinary qualities.
He was an electrifying personality with a fiercely intelligent mind. His humour was legendary. Armed with a contagious laughter, he exhibited an engaging personality.
I recall quite fondly how he would regale us with stories about his youth days and how he developed his sharp and witty style of debate.
He would tell us that because of his short physique, he learned very early in life that the only defence mechanism he had against bullies was to develop a sharp and cutting tongue against his opponents.
This persona is best described by the Irish playwright, Sean O'Casey, when he said of his own life:
â??Hardship in my young days taught me how to fight hard, for if that characteristic wasn't developed then, it meant that one became either a slave or a lick-spittle.
"So I learned how to resist all aggressive attempts to make me a docile one, and could hit back as hard as he who could hit hardest. This gift (for an earned gift it is) kept within me when I reached the world of thought as it had been in the world of hard labour s" at times, I fear, fighting what I thought to be aggression where none was meant."
On another level, we have lost a great African patriot who devoted his life to the fight against human oppression.
Kader Asmal proudly believed in and set out to proclaim his loyalty to universal principles of liberty, fraternity, and equality.
During his lifetime he embraced a vision that said a better human society based on human rights, equality, respect and celebration of our common humanity is possible and indeed desirable.
The vision Kadar Asmal lived to serve was one which has endured over many turbulent years; a vision which will still live on because of the superiority of its moral claims.
And so Kader Asmal 's life was lived for the realisation of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.
He made immense contributions to the making of the new South Africa. As a leader of the ANC, he helped conceive the letter and spirit of our universally acclaimed Constitution.
Thus in a word his voice is eternally encoded in South Africa 's first democratic Constitution.
The first democratic Parliament of South Africa burst into life with his unique turn of phrase and level-headed discourse.
As happy as he was to live to witness the fading away of apartheid darkness, he retained his sharp and critical mind, and was as vigilant as ever.
As someone recently put it, it is always important that we remind new generations of the sacrifices that were made to attain what many may see as an imperfect democracy!
Professor Asmal knew very well that out of nothing, nothing must come and that, accordingly, a fully democratic society is a product of continuous recognition of necessity.
Thus he took it as his continued contribution to the struggle to protect the gains of democracy reminding us always of the long walk we had travelled and that we should never take for granted the principles that had ensured this moral victory against apartheid.
He served with distinction as a minister of Water Affairs and later, Education, each time grappling with core issues in the respective ministries with diligence and passion.
Even as an erudite professor, Kader Asmal benefited a great deal from his extensive and broad interaction with the ANC community of which he was an active member.
This made him an organic intellectual in the truest sense of the word. His outlook was grounded in concrete, daily realities of the people he led.
His untiring spirit in pursuit of what he believed in was inspiring. While in exile, he embarked on a brilliant academic career as professor of international law at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
At the same time he managed to execute his duties with efficacy as Chairperson of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, helping lead efforts to mobilise European people against apartheid.
It is notable that in performing his Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement duties, he shared activism with his lovely wife, Louise Asmal.
As the generation of Kader Asmal and Mama Sisulu passes on, leaving us the poorer for it, the least we can do is to ensure that we do not lose sight of the vision for which they lived.
Their legacy does not only guide us as we continue to build a post-apartheid society but also enables us to persist with the dream of making better the human condition.
As inheritors of these superior values from past generations we have the duty to keep in step with this legacy.
In an era overrun with values of acquisitiveness, Professor Asmal led a simple and dignified life.
Given his overall life, his academic fortitude, legal expertise, articulate and humorous mind, and the sheer moral force of his stature, it becomes clear that he is a hard act to follow.
To you Louise, the rock upon which comrade Kader stood, we know you have not only lost a husband; but also, you have lost a companion, a friend and a comrade.
You were married not only to him but to the struggle of the people of South Africa and, in turn, he was also not only married to you but to the struggle and the people of Ireland who had fought many battles against oppression, subjugation and prejudice.
Both of you believed in the righteousness of the struggle to free humanity from conditions of modern-day slavery.
It was this that stirred both of you to work towards the establishment of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement.
Supported by trade unions and progressive individuals, you started the boycott of South African products in the early 1960s.
This was followed by sport, cultural, economic and academic boycott. Consequently, the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement grew into an organisation that was active in all areas of anti-apartheid struggle and solidarity.
Indeed, the strike in 1985 by the young women workers at Dunne Stores in Ireland who refused to handle South African fruits was a turning point in the international Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement against apartheid.
As you Louise have pointed out in various fora of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, it is these efforts and the enormity of apartheid that impinged on Irish consciousness.
Compared to other Anti-Apartheid Movements elsewhere, the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement was small, but rich in having devoted members.
They invaded and marched into your house, and actually annexed it and made it the headquarters of the Anti-Apartheid struggle in Ireland.
We know that when Comrade Kader was busy with his international and academic obligations, it was you Louise, who coordinated work with the ANC, the English Anti-Apartheid Movement, the International Defence and Aid Fund, the British Trade Unions and the UN Centre Against Apartheid.
We all remember the role played by John de Courcy, Reverend Terence McCaughey, Mary Robinson, poets and writers like Seamus Heaney, Sean O'Casey, Samuel Beckett and those across the isle in the English Anti-Apartheid Movement who were a pillar to the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement- people like John Collins, Trevor Huddleston and Mike Terry, to name but a few.
Fellow South Africans,
This is the test with which Kader Asmal 's well-lived life has left us. He seemed to have set the standard even higher in all of the endeavours he set his sights on.
And yet we cannot afford to do otherwise.
In essence, we must strive to produce many a Kader Asmal 's who, in addition to high educational achievements, consciously embrace progressive humanism.
It means taking individual responsibility to fight corruption and all forms of ethical violations.
This progressive humanism compels those of us with the means to contribute to the upliftment of others.
It challenges those of us charged with various important responsibilities in society to carry out our duties with purpose and pride.
Embracing this progressive humanism will enable us to think beyond our individual interests and realise that the sum total of our actions as a collective translate into the type of society we desire to be.
Today, to meet the necessary conditions that define human rights politically, socially and economically, we need serious efforts after the manner of Kader Asmal.
In everything we do, as government, as private sector, as civil society, as leaders and as individuals, we must continue to adhere to this vision.
Death is our destiny; life is our course. Observing this, Professor Kadar Asmal and his wife Louise 's favourite Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, exclaimed in his poem, "The Cure at Troy":
History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime,
The longed-for tidal wave
Of Justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.
May his soul rest in peace!
Long live the spirit of Professor Kader Asmal, long live!!!!
I thank you!