Fatima Meer

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Fatima Meer
Fatima Meer.jpeg
Born(1928-08-12)12 August 1928
Durban, Natal, South Africa
Died12 March 2010(2010-03-12) (aged 81)
Resting placeBrooke Street Cemetery, Durban
Alma materUniversity of Natal
Occupation(s)Writer and academic
Notable workHigher Than Hope
SpouseIsmail Chota Meer

Fatima Meer (12 August 1928 – 12 March 2010) was a South African writer, academic, screenwriter, and prominent anti-apartheid activist.

Early life[edit]

Fatima Meer was born in the Grey Streets of Durban, South Africa, into a middle-class family of nine, where her father Moosa Ismail Meer, a newspaper editor of The Indian Views,[1] instilled in her a consciousness of the racial discrimination that existed in the country. Her mother was Rachel Farrell, the second wife of Moosa Ismail Meer. Her mother was orphaned and of Jewish and Portuguese descent. She converted to Islam and changed her name to Amina.[2][3] When she was 16 years old in 1944, she helped raise £1 000 for famine relief in Bengal, India.[4] She completed her schooling at the Durban Indian Girls High School. When she was still a student she mobilized students to found the Student Passive Resistance Committee to gather funds for the Indian community's passive resistance campaign from 1946 to 1948. The committee led her to meet Yusuf Dadoo, Monty Naicker, and Kesaveloo Goonam. She subsequently attended the University of the Witwatersrand for one year where she was a member of a Trotskyism group that was affiliated to Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM).[5][6] She went to the University of Natal, where she completed a Bachelor's degree and Master's degree in Sociology.[7]

Political activist[edit]

Meer and Kesaveloo Goonam became the first women to be elected as executive of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in 1950. She helped to establish the Durban and District Women's League on 4 October 1952 as a group of 70 women. This organisation was started in order to build alliances between Africans and Indians as a result of the race riots between the two groups in 1949.[6] Bertha Mkhize became the chairperson and she became the secretary of the league. The league undertook works such as organizing Child care and distributed milk at Cato Manor. This league also gather fund for victims caused by tornado at Springs where African became homeless and successfully collected £4000 for the Sea Cow Lake flood victims.[8]

After the National Party gained power in 1948 and started implementing their policy of apartheid. Meer's activism increased and as a result of her activism, Meer was first "banned" in 1952 for 3 years.[5] She was one of the founding members of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) which was established on 17 April 1954 in the Trades Hall on Rissik Street, in central Johannesburg which spearheaded the historical women's march on the Union Buildings, Pretoria on 9 August 1956. She was one of the leaders of the Women's March in 1956.[9] At the same year, she organize committee to gather fund for bail and support family from Natal political leaders which was in treason trial.[6]

In the 1960s, she organised night vigils to protest against the mass detention of anti-apartheid activists without trial outside durban prison. Fatima Meer was also one of organiser for a week-long vigil at the Gandhi Settlement in Phoenix. The leader of the vigil was Sushila Gandhi.[10] During the 1970s, she started to embrace Black Consciousness Ideology with South African Student Organisation (SASO) led by Steve Biko.[3]

On 1975, Fatima Meer co-founded the Black Women's Federation (BWF) with Winnie Mandela. Meer became the first presiden of the organisation.[11] A year later, she was banned again for period of five years. The banned order came after her attendance on meeting of the Black Studies Programme where she was a key speakers in a speech entitled, "Twenty-Five Years of Apartheid Rule".[6] In June 1976, after Soweto Uprisings, 11 women from BWF were arrested and detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. They were placed in solitary confinement at Fort Prison on Johannesburg.[12] She narrowly survived an assassination attempt shortly after her release from detention in 1976 when she was shot at her family home in Durban, but not harmed. Her son, Rashid, went into exile in the same year. She was attacked again and blamed the second attack on the Black Consciousness Movement and Inkatha Freedom Party.[13]

During the 1980s, Meer founded Co-ordinating Committee of Black (Indian, Coloured, African) Ratepayers Organisations to oppose the injustices which were happening to the black townships caused by Durban municipality.[6] She declined the offering of a seat in parliament in 1994 caused of her preference for non-governmental work.[14] In May 1999, Fatima founded the Concerned Citizens’ Group [CCG] to persuade Indian people not to vote for white parties one next election.[3]

She was a strong supporter of the Iranian Revolution and boycotted Salman Rushdie's trip to South Africa in 1998, claiming that he was a blasphemer.[13] She was involved in protests against the oppression and assault of the Palestinian people and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. She founded Jubilee 2000 to campaign for the cancellation of Third World debt.[15]

Charity work[edit]

She published her book entitled Portrait of Indian South Africans on 1969 and donated all revenue from the sale of the book to the Gandhi Settlement for the needs to build Gandhi Museum and Clinic.[16] She helped an operation to rescue 10 000 Indian flood victims at Tin Town which was located on the banks of the Umgeni River. Meer built temporary housing in a tent and organized relief food and clothing. Later, she successfully negotiated permanent settlement for them in Phoenix. Meer also founded and became a leader of Natal Education Trust which gather money from the Indian community to build schools in Umlazi, Port Shepstone and Inanda.[6]

She founded Tembalishe Tutorial College at Gandhi's Phoenix home to taught blacks in secretarial skills on 1979. Crafts Centre also established at the Settlement to taught screen printing, sewing, embroidery and knitting for unemployed, Both the college and the crafts Center were closed in 1982 following after Fatima detainment for breaching her banning order caused of supervising the work outside of Durban boundary.[17] During 1980s, she organised scholarships for ten students to go to United States and assisted the "SAVE OUR HOMES COMMITTEE"  which was founded by the Coloured community of Sparks Estate to seek justice for who were threatened by the Durban Municipality whom wanted to take their homes.They succeeded gain the compensation for the act.[6] Through the cooperation with Indira Gandhi, she organized scholarship for South African students to study medicine and the political sciences in India.[3] IBR does tutorial programmes to improve the low matric pass rate and Phambili High was founded in 1986 for African students.[15]

On 1992,(2years before the first democratic election) Fatima Meer founded the Clare Estate Environment Group as a response to the needs of shack dwellers and rural migrants. They have no right in urban areas and need clean water, sanitation and proper settlement.[18] Khanyisa School Project was founded on 1993 as a preparatory school for underprivileged African children before they go to formal school. She was also founded Khanya Women's Skills Training Centre in 1996, which teach 150 Black women in pattern-cutting, sewing, adult literacy and business management.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Fatima Meer married her first cousin in 1950, Ismail Meer. This was not uncommon in the Sunni Bhora community where she grew up. Ismail Meer was a prominent lawyer and apartheid activist. He was an active member of the KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial legislature. In the 1960s he was arrested and charged with treason, along with Nelson Mandela, and other activists. In 2000, Fatima Meer's son Rashid died in a car accident.[3] She is survived by two daughters Shehnaaz, a Land Claims Court judge, and Shamin, a social science consultant.[20]

Academic and writer[edit]

Meer became a lecturer of sociology and a staff member of the University of Natal from 1956 to 1988. She was the first non-white person to hold that position.[5] She was also a visiting professor at a number of universities in abroad. Meer became a fellow of the London School of Economics, and received three honorary doctorates. First, she received an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from Swarthmore College (1984) and in Humane Letters from Bennet College in the United States (1994). Later, she received Honorary Doctorate in Social Sciences from Natal University in South Africa (1998).[13][21]

She founded the Institute for Black Research (IBR), which became a research and publishing institution and educational NGO in 1972[18]



  • Portrait of Indian South Africans (1969)
  • The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma (1970)
  • Race and Suicide in South Africa (1976)
  • Towards Understanding Iran Today (1985)
  • Resistance in the Townships (1989)
  • Higher than Hope (1990) (the first authorized biography of Nelson Mandela, which was translated into 13 languages)
  • The South African Gandhi: The Speeches and Writings of M.K. Gandhi (1996)
  • Passive Resistance, 1946: A Selection of Documents (1996)
  • Fatima Meer: Memories of Love and Struggle (2010)


Honours, decorations, awards and distinctions[edit]

  • Union of South African Journalists Award (1975)
  • Imal Abdullah Haroon Award for the Struggle against Oppression and Racial Discrimination (1990)
  • Vishwa Gurjari Award for Contribution to Human Rights (1994)
  • Top 100 Women Who Shook South Africa list (1999)
  • #45 Top 100 Great South Africans (2004)
  • South African National Order: Order for Meritorious Service (2009)
  • The Order of Luthuli in Silver (2017)[23]

Death and legacy[edit]

Fatima Meer died at St. Augustine's Hospital in Durban on 12 March 2010, aged 81, from a stroke which she suffered two weeks earlier.[13] A collection of Fatima Meer’s political and academic writings entitled Voices of Liberation was published in 2019.[24] Her paintings and drawings have been exhibited at Constitutional Hill since August 2017.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Indian press: A proud history in South Africa". The Journalist. The Journalist. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  2. ^ Villa-Vicencio, Charles. (1996). The spirit of freedom : South African leaders on religion and politics. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-520-91626-5. OCLC 45728692.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Professor Fatima Meer | South African History Online". www.sahistory.org.za. 29 June 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  4. ^ "ANC bids farewell to selfless Mama Fatima". The Mail &Guardian. The Mail &Guardian. 13 March 2010. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Van Allen JI. "Fatima Meer | South African activist, educator, and author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Fatima Meer Timeline 1928-2010 | South Africantory Online". www.sahistory.org.za. 21 March 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Fatima". Media Lab Africa. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  8. ^ Hiralal, Kalpana (July 2018). "'Mary and Annie resist': gender and resistance in South Africa 1900s–1950s". South Asian Diaspora. 10 (2): 123–138. doi:10.1080/19438192.2018.1460917. ISSN 1943-8192. S2CID 150009244.
  9. ^ Mafika (19 August 2014). "Remembering the voices of the women of 1956". Brand South Africa. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  10. ^ "'Mama' Fatima Meer ANC Veteran and Anti Apartheid Struggle Stalwart, passes away. 1928-2010". www.awaazmagazine.com. 31 October 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  11. ^ "History of Women's struggle in South Africa | South African History Online". www.sahistory.org.za. 21 March 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  12. ^ Haffejee, Ihsaan (23 August 2017). "Flowers in Confinement: Fatima Meer's defiant sketches of women in prison exhibited". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  13. ^ a b c d Pillay, Taschica (12 March 2010). "Fatima Meer dies". TIMES Live. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  14. ^ Daniels LA (9 August 2017). "8 women whose role in the Struggle is recognised worldwide". www.iol.co.za. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  15. ^ a b Vahed G (2011). Muslim portraits : the anti-apartheid struggle (PDF). Durban, South Africa: Madiba Publishers. p. 170. ISBN 978-1-874945-25-3. OCLC 858966865.
  16. ^ "President Jacob Zuma bestows 2017 National Orders Awards | South African Government". www.gov.za. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  17. ^ Rajab DM (9 May 2011). "Women: South African's of Indian Origin". Jacana Media. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  18. ^ a b "Fatima Meer, A Giant Social Reformer". POST. 31 August 2016. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  19. ^ "Meer A Resilient Freedom FIghter". The Mercury. 14 August 2017. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  20. ^ "Fatima Meer's amazing journey". Mail & Guardian. Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  21. ^ Ozynski, Gabrielle (12 August 2017). "Birthday Tribute To Activist Fatima Meer". People Magazine. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  22. ^ Singh, Yash (2 October 2019). "7 films based on or inspired by the life of Mahatma Gandhi". The Indian Wire. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  23. ^ "President Jacob Zuma bestows 2017 National Orders Awards | South African Government". www.gov.za. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  24. ^ "Voices of Liberation – Fatima Meer – The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)". www.hsrcpress.ac.za. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  25. ^ Dwamena, Anakwa (23 October 2019). "The Defiantly Everyday Drawings of Fatima Meer". The New Yorker. Retrieved 28 July 2020.

External links[edit]