From humble beginnings to a think-tank
KADER Asmal was the child of a housewife and a shopkeeper. Raised in a vibrant, lower middle-class family of 10, Asmal grew up in a household where lively debate was encouraged by both parents.
Asmal grew up in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, and while still a schoolboy met Chief Albert Luthuli, who inspired him towards human rights. In 1959 he qualified as a teacher, and then moved to London where he enrolled at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Asmal then began teaching at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where he spent 25 years, specialising in human rights, labour and international law.
In 1983 he received the Prix Unesco in recognition of his work in the advancement of human rights. On his return to South Africa, he became Professor of Human Rights at the University of the Western Cape (1990-1994).
Throughout these years - as a founder of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement in London (1960) and as founder, vice-chairperson (1963-1972) and chairperson (1972-1991) of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement - Asmal effectively opposed apartheid on behalf of the ANC.
Asmal also added his efforts to civil rights campaigns in Palestine and Northern Ireland, and served on international legal commissions. After the 1994 general elections, Asmal was appointed minister of water affairs and forestry, a position he held until 1999.
After the 1999 elections, he was appointed minister of education, the position he held until 2004. While at the helm of education, he pushed for mergers of a number of tertiary institutions, with the first successful merger being that of ML Sultan and Natal Technikon to form the Durban Institute of Technology, now called Durban University of Technology.
Last week as President Jacob Zuma defended the Protection of Information Bill, Asmal warned that the bill was flawed, calling on South Africans to reject it.
In his letter to the Right2Know campaign, Asmal advised the ANC that there would be no shame in withdrawing the bill to "go back to the drawing board".
"My fear or anxiety is that if the bill is forced through the ad hoc committee, people whose judgment I trust will lose faith in the democratic process," he said.