Professor Kader Asmal, ANC stalwart and former education minister passed away at a Cape Town hospital on 22 June 2011 at the age of 76. He suffered from bone marrow cancer. Asmal served democratic South Africa for almost 14 years from 1994 until 2008. His cabinet portfolios included Water Affairs, Forestry and Education. He remained outspoken until the end, commenting recently on the proposed media tribunal and Protection of Information Bill, as well as on the arms deal. He is survived by his wife Louise, two sons, two brothers and a sister. He retired at the end of February 2008 from active politics after serving as an African National Congress (ANC) Member of Parliament for many years. His credentials include chairmanship of the UCB (United Cricket Board on cricket franchise); chairmanship of the portfolio committee on defence; member of parliament (National Assembly); chairmanship of the ANC national disciplinary committee; chairmanship of the joint parliamentary committee of ethics and Members’ Interests.

Asmal, nicknamed ‘The Bee’ for his prodigious energy, was born on October 8, 1934 in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal

Background Asmal, nicknamed ‘The Bee’ for his prodigious energy, was born on October 8, 1934 in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal to Ahmed (a shopkeeper) and Rasoul Asmal (nee Maithir) into a family of eight children. He was particularly close to his father, who encouraged reading, debate and independent thinking in his seven children. He started his schooling in Stanger and subsequently attended the Oriental Primary School in Pietermaritzburg. He returned to Stanger where he matriculated in 1952.

At school his leadership and debating abilities were recognised and he became a prefect and house captain and won the province-wide Islamic Debating trophy. During his school years several factors influenced his later life and political thinking. From the age of 10, his love of books and newspapers (especially the New Statesman) turned him into a lifelong Anglophile with the ambition to study at the London School of Economics. After seeing films of Nazi concentration camp victims at the age of 12, he decided to become a lawyer in order to root out practices which could lead to such atrocities. He came into contact with the Congress movement in 1953 after arriving in Durban to do a teacher’s diploma. He spent 27 years in Ireland lecturing in human rights, labour and international law at Trinity College.

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