UCT mourns passing of honorary graduate Kader Asmal

23 June 2011 | Story by Newsroom
Mourned: The late Prof Kader Asmal, on whom UCT conferred a Doctor of Philosophy in 1999. He subsequently delivered several key lectures at UCT.
Mourned: The late Prof Kader Asmal, on whom UCT conferred a Doctor of Philosophy in 1999. He subsequently delivered several key lectures at UCT.

UCT mourns the death on 22 June of honorary graduate Professor Kader Asmal, struggle icon and former Minister of Education (1999 to 2004) and Minister of Water Affairs of the first democratic government.

UCT welcomed Asmal to its campus on many occasions. He received an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Philosophy) from UCT in 1999 and subsequently delivered several key lectures at the university.

These included the TB Davie Memorial Lecture in September 2002, titled Breaking with the Past, Planning for the Future, and the fifth JD Baqwa Memorial lecture in 2009, titled National Identity and Cultural Diversity.

Born in KwaZulu-Natal, Asmal was one of the founding members of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1960, founder and chairperson of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement (1964 to 1990) and a rapporteur of UN International conferences on apartheid.

After graduating from high school, he enrolled for a teacher's diploma, which was followed by a BA with UNISA, before reading law at the London School of Economics. After returning from exile, he was elected onto the ANC National Executive Committee (1991 to 2007). He was the recipient of many honorary degrees by universities in Ireland and South Africa, and was an Honorary Fellow of the London School of Economics, the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. An accomplished academic, he championed the cause of learning.

"Universities are the intellectual life-blood of our society and I am therefore here to send a message about their importance to our world," Asmal said in the introduction to his TB Davie Memorial Lecture in 2002.

"TB Davie challenged us nearly 40 years ago. My challenges arise from the needs of a society engaging its democratic life. On this occasion, we also remember the UCT students, who in 1957 protested against the imposition of apartheid education and the torch that was lit and then extinguished, as a symbol of the academic freedom that had been destroyed and prefiguring the dark times that lay ahead. Today the conditions exist for the flame of academic freedom to burn brightly across the length and breadth of our land. Today we remember TB Davie, who took on the responsibility of leading the University of Cape Town during the period in which apartheid was extended to the universities.

"He believed that academic freedom meant freedom from external interference in who is to teach, what is to be taught, how teaching is to take place and who is to be taught. We salute him and the others of his generation, who with great courage and conviction, sought to prevent apartheid being extended to academies of learning. Their failure, in the face of a determined onslaught by the apartheid state, was a failure that arose from their isolation from the main forces of resistance to apartheid."

Download the full lecture.

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