Monday, March 15, 2010

Fatima Meer

Anti-apartheid struggle stalwart Fatima Meer was a selfless leader who fought fearlessly and sacrificed her well-being in the struggle for liberation and the building of the South African democracy, says the ANC.

"The African National Congress is deeply saddened to learn of the death of the ANC veteran and anti-apartheid struggle stalwart, Mama Fatima Meer."

"Mama Fatima was a selfless leader. Regardless of the apartheid regime attempts on her life, she did not surrender her determination to serve our people. She did not loose sight of her political activism," it said in a statement.

Meer died at the St Augustines hospital in Durban on Friday afternoon following a stroke she suffered two weeks ago.

She was aged 82.

"We will also remember her as a stalwart of our movement, a fearless fighter who sacrificed her well-being for all of us to enjoy our freedom."

"We pay homage to this gallant fighter, writer, academic and mother and will forever treasure the contribution she made in the struggle for liberation and the building of our democracy," the party said.

Meer's political activism dates back to 1944 when, aged just 16, she helped raise 1000 Pounds for famine relief in Bengal, India.

"Like thousands of Indians, she was swept up by the 1946 Indian Passive Resistance Campaign, which was the most dramatic show of militant anti-government action in South African history," the party said.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal said it learnt with "deep sorrow" of Meer's death.

Provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said it was with deep sorrow that he learnt of Meer's death. "She served her nation with the gusto during the apartheid struggle. We would like to send our deepest condolences to her family and friends."

Zikalala said she was one of the Indians who never accepted offers from the apartheid regime and chose to fight for liberation of all South Africans.

The Democratic Alliance in KwaZulu-Natal also sent its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of veteran anti-apartheid activist, Meer.

The party described Meer as an inspirational human being, a prominent academic, writer and activist who played a tremendous and important role in opposing the tyranny of the apartheid government.

"Her outspoken opposition [of then] ruling National Party resulted in her being banned, she and her family sacrificed a great deal in the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa."

"Although incredibly frail and confined to a wheelchair in her twilight years, she remained an outspoken activist for human rights and the downtrodden of our country."

"Her passing has robbed us of a daughter of our KwaZulu-Natal soil, but we must give thanks for her tremendous life's work. The causes she fought for so passionately will never die, may her soul rest in peace," the party said.

Meer survived an apparent assassination attempt by apartheid hitmen in 1977, and attacks in later years which she blamed on the Black Consciousness Movement and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

Meer was born in Durban on August 12, 1928.

She attended Natal University, gaining a Masters degree in Social Sciences.

She was also the recipient of three honorary doctorates: in Philosophy from Swartmoor College (US) in 1984; in Humane Letters from Bennet College (US) in 1994; and in Social Sciences from her alma mater in 1998.

Her books included the compelling Trial of Andrew Zondo, story of an executed ANC guerrilla, and Higher Than Hope, an uncritical biography of Nelson Mandela.

She was principal of what has been described as a brave but ill-fated social experiment in the 1980s, the Phambili School, where she found herself at the centre of a row over mismanagement.

She founded the Institute for Black Research at Natal University, which raised the ire of her one-time fellow student Mangosuthu Buthelezi by publishing the first research to conclude that Inkatha was destabilising Natal.

She also branched into script-writing: her account of Mahatma Gandhi's experiences in South Africa was funded by the Indian government and bought by the SABC.

A close friend of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela -- with whom she was detained in 1976 and whom she believed was the innocent victim of both apartheid and dirty politics within the African National Congress -- she also held some other unconventional views.

She boycotted Salman Rushdie's abortive tour to South Africa in 1998, claiming he was a blasphemer, and returned from a 1984 trip to Iran a passionate apologist for that country's Islamic revolution.

More recently, she became a patron of the Jubilee 2000 movement that has campaigned for writing-off of third world debt.

Last year she was among 104 South Africans -- including Govan Mbeki, Harry Oppenheimer and Miriam Makeba, honoured with the Order for Meritorious Service by outgoing President Nelson Mandela.

In mid-1995 she underwent serious heart surgery and lost her son, Rashid -- a highly regarded BBC radio journalist -- in a car crash.

She underwent a triple heart bypass in 1998, and Mandela was one of the first to welcome her home.

Her husband, Ismail, is a famed lawyer/activist who, despite his age, has been one of the
most energetic ANC members of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature.

He was arrested and charged with treason together with Mandela and others in the early 1960s.

She has two daughters -- Shehnaaz, a Land Claims Court judge, and Shamin, a social science consultant.

"The role that Mama Fatima and her husband, Dr Ismal, played in cementing the relationship between the National Indian Congress and ANC in the 40's cannot be underestimated. In her own right, she fought with distinction the apartheid regime for all of us to achieve the freedoms we now enjoy," the party said.

"The ANC extends its heartfelt condolences to her family, friends and colleagues as we mourn this servant and leader of our people. May her soul rest in peace knowing that many will pick up her spear and continue with the struggle until all our people have a better life."

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