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Amina Pahad (1918 - 1973)

The Order of Luthuli in

Amina Pahad (1918 - 1973) Awarded for:
Excellent contribution to the struggle for democracy, equality and justice in South Africa.

Profile of Amina Pahad

Amina Pahad was an ordinary woman of Indian descent who was inspired by extraordinary ideals. Born in July 1918 in Klerksdorp in the then Transvaal, she was deeply moved by the oppression she witnessed as a young woman.

She was attracted to the satyagraha campaigns of Mahatma Ghandi and as a 19-year-old Pahad became active in the resistance politics of the Indian community against the continuous onslaught of a government intent on limiting their freedoms.

When the Asiatic Land Tenure Act, which drastically restricted the occupation and ownership rights of the Indian community, was passed in 1946, the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) embarked on a Passive Resistance Campaign to defy that law. In Durban, the SAIC called on volunteers passively to occupy a plot of land reserved for white people.

As part of a non-racial group of volunteers, Pahad was among the first to take up position. Under the approving gaze of the police, gangs of racist thugs attacked the volunteers. Despite injury and further threats, the spirit of Pahad and her comrades remained strong and they returned again and again. They were eventually arrested and sentenced to fines or imprisonment – all the resisters opted to serve the time.

Pahad was among a group that courted imprisonment for a second time.

The example set by the passive resisters in the 1946 campaign was of great significance in South Africa. It reaffirmed the nobility of passive resistance as a form of protest and laid the basis for a pact to be established between the SAIC and the African National Congress (ANC).

Indeed in 1952 the ANC and the SAIC jointly launched the Defiance Campaign against specific unjust and racist laws. Again when volunteers were called for, Pahad, now suffering from rheumatism developed in her earlier bouts in prison, left behind her five children to participate in the campaign.

Later, Pahad would take part in the Women's March of 1956 in which 20 000 women converged on the Union Buildings to protest against the extension of apartheid legislation to urban black women.

At home, Pahad created a veritable haven for all those engaged in the struggle against apartheid, an environment where people from all walks of life were welcomed and where politics was actively debated. In his biography, former President Nelson Mandela describes the effect Pahad had on him: ‘If I had once questioned the willingness of the Indian community to protest against oppression, I no longer could.’

Similarly, Walter Sisulu noted that his initial assessment that Indian women were ‘conservative and unwilling to involve themselves in public life’ changed after he had met Amina Pahad and other Indian women who were involved in the passive resistance campaigns.

Amina Pahad never sought the limelight, yet she was a courageous cadre who never flinched when duty called, even at great personal cost. She combined her responsibilities as a woman, mother and freedom fighter in the best traditions of struggle.

Her life exemplified selfless dedication to justice and democracy and the dogged belief in the possibility of building a different society, one imbued with notions of love for humanity, irrespective of colour, caste, creed or race.

Amina Pahad died tragically in a car accident in India on 26 May 1973. She is survived by her four remaining sons, Essop, Aziz, Juned and Nassim.