Kader Asmal

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Kader Asmal
Kader Asmal.jpg
Minister of Education
In office
PresidentThabo Mbeki
Preceded bySibusiso Bengu
Succeeded byNaledi Pandor
Member of Parliament
In office
1994 – 2008[1]
Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry
In office
PresidentNelson Mandela
Succeeded byRonnie Kasrils
Personal details
Born(1934-10-08)8 October 1934
Died22 June 2011(2011-06-22) (aged 76)
Political partyAfrican 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 had 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.

Early life[edit]

Born in 1934, Asmal grew up in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal. He was the son of an Indian shopkeeper and one of seven children.[1] When he was a schoolboy, he met Chief Albert Luthuli, who inspired him towards human rights.[3]

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. That 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]

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]

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

Political career[edit]

Asmal was the founder of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement. He claimed that while he was in Ireland in the late 1970s, he assisted the ANC to find IRA volunteers, who did reconnaissance on South Africa's Sasolburg refinery, which was then bombed by the ANC's military wing in 1980.[4]

While in London, he started the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and when he joined Trinity College Dublin 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 Dublin for 27 years,[4] specializing in human rights, labour and international law. Asmal served on the (ANC's constitutional committee from 1986. While in Ireland he also helped to establish the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. He was a board member of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.[5]

Minister of Water Affairs[edit]

In 1990, Asmal returned to South Africa[4] and shortly afterward, he was elected to the ANC's National Executive Committee. In 1993, he served as a member of the negotiating team of the ANC at the Multiparty Negotiating Forum. In May 1994, he was elected to the National Assembly, and he joined the Cabinet, as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry.[6]

In 1996, 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".[7] While serving as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, he also served as the chairman of the World Commission on Dams (1997–2001). His work as Minister of Water Affairs is widely regarded as successful, which was attributed largely by his ability to work with the still-largely Afrikaner civil service.[1]

Minister of Education[edit]

Although Asmal was not as close to President Thabo Mbeki as he was to President Nelson Mandela,[1] he was promoted to Minister of Education in 1999[4] after that year's general elections.[8] 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".[9]

Given the vast inequalities in the education system that were inherited from the apartheid regime, the post was seen by many as a poisoned chalice. After rolling back some of the ANC's more ambitious education policies 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 if they failed to apply affirmative action policies to their students and staff. Asmal decide to close down all Teacher Training Colleges as well as certain Technical Colleges.[10][11][12] Outcome-based education was introduced during his tenure, and scrapped a few years later.[13][14][15][16]


In 2004, Asmal left government but would remain in Parliament until 2008.[1]

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 Southern Rhodesia Prime Minister Garfield Todd, an opponent of white minority rule under Ian Smith.[17]

Asmal resigned from parliament in 2008 in protest against the ANC's disbanding of the elite Scorpions anti-crime unit. He felt it was a poor decision and that it was improper that politicians who had been investigated and found by the Scorpions to be engaged in corruption then took part in the vote to disband the organisation.[18]

Later life[edit]

Asmal called for the controversial Information Bill (also known as the "Secrecy Bill") to be scrapped.[19]

He published an autobiography, Politics in my Blood.[3][4]

He died in 2011 after suffering a heart attack.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Uys, Stanley (23 June 2011). "Kader Asmal obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
  2. ^ Associated Press (24 June 2011). "Kader Asmal, 76, Dies; Fought Apartheid". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c d Asmal, Kader; Hadland, Adrian (2011). Kader Asmal: Politics in My Blood - A Memoir. South Africa: Jacana. pp. 20–29. ISBN 9781770099036.
  4. ^ a b c d e Alexander, Peter (29 August 2011). "IRA aided anti-apartheid bombing, claimed Asmal". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
  5. ^ http://www.chr.up.ac.za/index.php/board.html Archived 1 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine Centre for Human Rights Board Members Retrieved 25 June 2011
  6. ^ sahoboss (17 February 2011). "Professor Kader Abdul Asmal". South African History Online. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  7. ^ "(24 September 1997) "South African Water Minister to Head New World Commission on Dams"". Archived from the original on 8 February 2005. Retrieved 1 May 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  8. ^ Vergnani, Linda (9 July 1999) "Education Minister in South Africa Seeks Better Training for Aspiring Teachers" Chronicle of Higher Education 45(44) p. A45
  9. ^ "Speech by the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, at the launch of the South African History Project" Archived 4 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Old Fort, Johannesburg, 27 August 2001
  10. ^ MacGregor, K (27 April 2008). "South Africa: Government may re-create Teacher Colleges". University World News. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  11. ^ Lomwabo, M (23 September 2014). "Re-0pen Teachers Training Colleges IFP". JacarandaFM. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  12. ^ Balfour, R.J (2015). "Education in a New South Africa". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107447295. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  14. ^ Mahlangu, B (5 July 2010). "Outcomes Based Education to be scrapped". Sunday Times. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  15. ^ Isaacs, B (12 January 2020). "We can still turn our education system around". Cape Argus. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  16. ^ Olivier, B (5 September 2009). "Why OBE has not worked in South Africa". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  17. ^ Asmal breaks ANC ranks on Zimbabwe Business Day
  18. ^ "Why Kader Asmal resigned from Parliament". Mail & Guardian. 29 October 2008. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  19. ^ "Asmal calls for withdrawal of Information Bill". EWN. 23 June 2011. Retrieved 22 June 2011.[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]