Tribute to Professor Kader Asmal by Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize (MP) Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, City Hall, Pretoria
5 Jul 2011Programme Director, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty
Mrs Asmal and the family members accompanying her
Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Members of Parliament present
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of the media
Friends and comrades,
Honourable members of the Asmal family, we are gathered here today to open a new chapter in the struggles for relevant and appropriate education. As of this year, each time we commemorate the sacrifices of the youth, which gave birth to the Soweto uprisings, we’ll also reflect and commemorate the life of Professor Kader Asmal. I suppose it is no coincidence for our hero and gallant leader to depart during a historic month, during which we uphold courage, determination and decisiveness for a common good. Professor Kader Asmal lived for those values till the last breath of his life.
Programme director, firstly, allow me, on behalf of the Department of Higher Education and Training, to warmly greet the Asmal family, particularly, Mrs Louise Asmal, a great woman in her own right, and to thank them for having generously shared the life of Kader with the Department of Education during its formative years, in democracy.
Also, allow me to share with you my encounters with Prof Asmal. I first met Kader in the 1980’s on an Anti-Apartheid Campaign briefing, in Europe. The briefing was on the impact of State Orchestrated Violence in our communities. Immediately after our presentation, Kader raised his hand and questioned each and every statement.
After a difficult interaction between myself and “this Irish Man” it became clear, that he was a South African at the heart of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. He was irritated by a poor presentation on the content and context of violence and its effects, especially “avoidance and silences” on the levels of devastation and trauma.
He ultimately said it himself, that people were dying in larger numbers in the cells and there are burials on a daily basis. For Prof. Asmal, we needed to articulate the situation on the ground much clearer. I must say, difficult and embarrassing as it was, that encounter made me trust Professor Asmal, for his, honesty and sincerity in our engagements.
Even as concerned commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, much later, we, to a large degree counted on his robust criticisms of the process. He taught us about interpretation and what is the legal truth. He often said, 'I make these observations, not as a politician, but as a legal scholar, historian and teacher.'
Kader was cherished by many whom he had given a hard time intellectually. Also while I was the Ambassador of South Africa to the Netherlands, he came through as a guest of the Government of the Netherlands. Many of his friends joined him and we all shared how demanding Kader could be, but also how you would never walk away from him, once you have met.
One thing, I would always remember and respect Kader for, is his love and deep intellectual respect for his dear wife. After each engagement, he would say, Louise knows all these things please contact her. We are gathered here today, to reflect and to honour the life of a great humanist, academic and activist, Professor Asmal. As the Department of Higher Education and Training, we would like to express our appreciation and gratitude for the role he played in the advancement of education in this country. We have created this space to reflect on such a great life and to pick up the spear as today’s actors in the education landscape.
The news of Professor Asmal’s death, came as a great shock to the department, as I am sure it did to many gathered here. This is because, despite the fact that he was not well for some time, we expected his fighting spirit and determination to carry him through his illness.
During his term of office as the Minister of Education following his appointment in 1999, he directed all his efforts to securing quality access to education for all. He lectured at Trinity College in Dublin for 27 years and was appointed Professor of Human Rights at the University of the Western Cape on his return to South Africa in 1990. He immersed himself into the life and work of the institution. During his term as Minister of Education, he particularly enjoyed engaging in robust discussions with university students and academics.
All this is proof that he found his home in academia and held Higher education close to his heart. Professor Asmal, embraced the vision to transform the higher education system, which was articulated in the Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education (1997). Kader, brought renewed energy to the challenges of implementing change in the higher education sector.
He took a personal interest in the development of the National Plan for Higher Education (NPHE), which addressed five key policy objectives to:
- increase access to higher education
- promote equity of access and to redress past inequalities through
- ensuring that staff and student profiles in higher education progressively reflect the demographic realities of the South African society
- ensure diversity in the organisational form and institutional landscape of the higher education system
- build high-level research capacity to address the research and knowledge needs of the country
- to build new institutional and organisational forms
The NPHE set out strategies for meeting each of the key policy objectives. Soon after taking office, Prof Asmal, in his Tirisano “Call to Action” (July 1999) recognised that “the shape and size of the higher education system cannot be left to chance, if we are to realise the vision of a rational, seamless higher education system, responsive to the needs of students of all ages and the intellectual challenges of the 21st century”.
He took on the challenge of reviewing and restructuring the institutional landscape of higher education, knowing full well that this would be a complex and difficult undertaking which was not for the “faint-hearted”, as he would have said. It was clear that the sector could not, on its own, arrive at any consensus on the institutional landscape and his view was that, provided the investigations had been thorough and consultations had been undertaken fully and in good faith, he was ready to take the necessary action.
Following the work of the Council on Higher Education’s Size and Shape Task Team and the investigations of the National Working Group on “The Restructuring of the Higher Education System in South Africa”, Prof Asmal, took a set of ambitious proposals to Cabinet. The implementation of these proposals has not been without difficulty but the break from the apartheid past was decisive.
He secured the funding for the re-structuring process, which included resources for the recapitalisation of universities. It also spelled the start of major infrastructural renewal in higher education, which was built on so ably by his successor, Mrs Naledi Pandor.
The National Institutes for Higher Education in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape were conceptualised as part of the restructuring agenda. These Institutes are the building blocks for the new universities that are to be established in these two provinces.
He will also be remembered for giving university status to the former technikons. Prof Asmal, was also known internationally for the strong stand he took in resisting the designation of education as a service under the World Trade Organisations’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). While he fully supported international partnerships in higher education, he argued that:“Education is surely not a commodity to be bought and sold. A reductionist view of education as merely an instrument for the transfer of skills should have no place in our world-view. Education must embrace the intellectual, cultural, political and social development of individuals, institutions and the nation more broadly. We cannot sacrifice this ‘public good’ agenda to the vagaries of the market”. (Address to the Portfolio Committee on Trade and industry, 4 March 2003)
He was, in particular, concerned about the impact of foreign providers on African higher education, especially, as higher education, in most countries in Africa had been weakened by the effects of earlier World Bank policies, which dictated that developing countries should largely concentrate on developing primary and secondary education provision.
While we lament a great loss, we can take comfort and celebrate the fact that Prof Asmal’s spirit will live on, long after he is gone, in the lives of the many people he touched. Indeed the most appropriate tribute we can pay to him is to build a new crop of young intellectuals committed to a non-racial, non-sexist and a truly democratic South Africa.
As we come to a close of this chapter, there are many lessons we would take away, but I want to read out a sentence or two on Prof. Asmal’s views on the values in education. They are captured from, his 2004 Keynote Address at the Conference on Human Rights and Democracy Education in the Curriculum: Challenges and Contestations.
He said, “Ubuntu, human dignity premised on a deep sense of humanism, is the profound value of human recognition that arises as we discover our humanity, not in the abstract, but in ongoing relations of reciprocal regard with other human beings.
An open society, which is established by our Constitution is the crucial context in which we realise freedom of conscience, expression, communication, assembly, and association.
Accountability, which puts our responsibility to each other into practice, underpins the social contract in which we prove ourselves worthy of each other’s trust.”
Hamba Kahle, qhawe lamaqhawe. You’ll be greatly missed.
Source: Department of Higher Education and Training
Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training
5 Jul 2011
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