Presidency mourns passing of struggle icon

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pretoria - The Presidency has sent condolences to the family and friends of anti-apartheid struggle icon Professor Fatima Meer who passed away on Friday.

"Our condolences go out to her family, especially her two daughters, friends and comrades. Our love, support and prayers are with them in this hour of need," said President Jacob Zuma.

Meer died at a Durban hospital after suffering from a stroke for the past two weeks.

Professor Fatima Meer had dedicated her life to the struggle for freedom and equality among all South Africans.

Her father was the publisher of Indian Views and this ensured that from an early age she was sensitised to the harsh inequalities of the apartheid system.

At a time when few Black, let alone Muslim, women were educated she completed her Masters degree in Sociology at the then University of Natal.

Her political activism started at the age of 16 when she helped raise funds for famine relief. This path of grassroots activism has characterised her entire life.

In 1946, she joined the Passive Resistance Campaign, establishing the Student Passive Resistance Committee.

Following the riots of 1949 she worked tirelessly to improve relations between Indians and Africans in Durban.

Together with Bertha Mkhize she formed the Durban and District Women's League, the first organization to unite Indian and African women under the same banner.

Together with her husband Ismail Meer, she played an important role in cementing race relations during the heady days of the Defiance Campaign.

Their friendship with the Mandela family has endured over the years. She was detained with Winnie Mandela for over six months.

In 1956, she became the first black woman to be appointed to lecture at a white university when she started lecturing Sociology at Natal University.

This did not diminish her role in the struggle and she organized mass vigils for political prisoners outside the Durban prison.

She was detained on numerous occasions and in 1976 survived an assassination attempt by apartheid agents.

In 1979, she founded the Tembalishe Tutorial College to teach African students secretarial skills.

She was also instrumental in organizing for African students to obtain scholarships to study medicine and political science in India.

She founded the Phambili High School in 1986, which played a prominent role in educating activists from the Mass Democratic Movement when they were expelled from township schools. Her house was a home away from home for many activists.

She declined a seat in Parliament in 1994 in favour of working with non-governmental organizations.

However, she still played a role in government in a number of capacities. She was advisor to the Minister of Arts and Culture and served on the National Symbols Commission and the National Anthem Commission.

She was also a member of the Advisory Panel to the President and was on the Film and Publication Board, and on the Board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

In addition, to her other accomplishments she has published more than forty books and was involved in the production of the movie "The Making of a Mahatma," on the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

In recent years, despite losing her husband, Ismail and son Rashid, she nevertheless remained a champion of the poor. She was an activist until the end.