In Professor Kader Asmal we celebrate the life of a comrade and friend whose adult life was marked by the pursuit of knowledge, in a commitment to lifelong learning, supported by evidence and in order to persuade.
Kader's learning was not occasioned by the learning for examinations - he was long past that; and the evidence he sought was not required to win a court case, and the persuasion he indulged in was in order to convince.
Kader lived for politics, in the best sense of the concept - not the "I am bigger than you", or the "we outnumber you, so your ideas don't matter" style of politics, but politics writ large, where non-agreement required the opponent to be convinced of his/her own ideas, even where they were wrong.
Kader's adult life was steered by ideas and he lived for the dialectic, the opportunity to have opposing views argued on the strength of their merits. It is these attributes that made Kader Asmal into a great parliamentarian and a formidable ally.
It is clear that in his life he shaped and was shaped by the people and circumstances around him. Thus when he was awarded the Legion D'Honneur by the French government he said, "I am the product of our struggle for freedom. Like my political movement, we have drawn inspiration from the intellectual and political pathway of humanity, which has shaped the contours of our Constitution."
He said, "We have drawn inspiration from the intellectual and political pathway of humanity," It is important that we understand that this was not some passive search for those pathways, that having been identified were then pursued. Our history is quite different from such passivity. One of the oft-quoted elements of the moral high-ground that anti-apartheid struggle occupied was that the United Nations declared apartheid a crime against humanity. This did not just happen - in fact the first attempt by the ANC for UN recognition was rebuffed.
It was Kader Asmal who ensured that the ANC used international law as it had never been used before to bring down apartheid. As the head of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement he worked closely with the Special Committee against Apartheid to get the UN to recognise the principle of self-determination as a rule of international law and that therefore resistance to colonial, racist and alien regimes was legitimate. From there it was a small step for the UN to extend the protection of the Geneva Conventions to national liberation movements and their members. Once this edifice was in place, it became simple to add on sanctions, boycotts and embargoes.
At his suggestion, the ANC agreed go a step further to have the Geneva Conventions of 1977 extended to cover wars of national liberation. This, Kader knew would open the way for states subject to wars of liberation to similarly observe the Geneva Conventions when it came to the treatment of liberation fighters.
Professor Asmal truly treasured our Constitution. In one of the very last photographs published of him just last week, he has a dog-eared copy of the Constitution in his hand. I remember asking myself why he needed a copy, because he was entirely au fait with every line and verse of that document whose "contours" had been shaped by the "political pathway of humanity." Unless, of course, as was his wont, he needed a prop in hand. He knew and loved the Constitution because of his intimate involvement in its genesis and negotiations.
Retired-Judge Albie Sachs writes of the process of Constitution-making in South Africa, as follows: "It was a grey drizzly day in Dublin - nothing unusual about that. I was in Kader and Louise Asmal's house - nothing special about that. Kader didn't smoke indoors the whole weekend - that was unusual. On Friday evening, the whole of Saturday, Saturday evening and most of Sunday, Kader and I worked on the first draft of the Bill of Rights for a democratic South Africa to be proposed by the Constitutional Committee of the African National Congress (ANC) - that was unique.
It was on a kitchen table in a Dublin suburb that that draft was written. I wish I could say it was because of the great tradition of Irish freedom that we felt there was no other place in the world it could be done. The reality was that the Constitutional Committee had nominated Kader and me to do it and we had to come together either in London or in Dublin and because Kader couldn't get away I came to Dublin. We were aware at the time of the momentous nature of what we were doing.
We divided the work. As I recollect, Kader did the first draft of some areas of special interest to him - the enforcement mechanisms and how the Bill of Rights would fit into the African constitutional structure. I dealt with the broad basic principles of a Bill of Rights. I can recall deliberately sitting down with a blank sheet of paper - no universal declaration, no international conventions, no constitution from any country - on the basis that a Bill of Rights should speak out from the soul the fundamental rights that belong to every human being and shouldn't be a list of items gleaned from an encyclopedia or legal dictionary or textbook."
The Constitutional Principles that Judge Albie Sachs refers to, that were drafted on that kitchen table in 1987, were done for the ANC and they appear, almost verbatim as the Preamble to our own Constitution 1996. So, it was never an alien document, forced down our throats, but a document born of the "political pathway of humanity, which has shaped the contours of our Constitution."
Thomas Paine wrote, "My country is the world and my religion is to do good." This is what Kader was about. The bequest from him is primarily a bequest of the values of humanity. Whether this was in the quest for water, education, information or just plain justice for all - Kader's views were unequivocally strong, and grounded in the best intellectual traditions. This was his foundation for service.
Kader Asmal was tireless in the pursuit of justice and for human rights. Not even during his illness did he pause for breath. Sometimes, it was very tough being his friend! He continued arguing then against the government of which I am part, albeit on a few issues that he considered fundamental. Such has been our comradeship, premised on values that are far greater and bonds much stronger than the tactical issues about which we need to differ.
Tributes have poured in from many quarters. President Zuma said, "He will be remembered for his energy, forthrightness, efficiency and commitment to making the country a better place each day. He will also be remembered for his passion for human rights for all."
Former President Thabo Mbeki said, "All of us who knew and worked with him, whether as a leader of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, as part of the leadership of the ANC, or as a Minister in our democratic governments, could always depend on him as a steadfast fighter for the liberation and advancement of the interests of all South Africans."
Many people across the world have joined with us in celebration of the life of a true freedom fighter - one who had the courage to stand up against the apartheid regime, and as a disciplined cadre of the ANC, stand up against those within the movement who would appear to try and cut a path other than the "Intellectual pathway of humanity."
As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, "To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, that thou canst not then be false to any man."
Go well, true soldier. You have taught us much. You have set a wonderful example. You have a lifetime of true service to the people.