Fatima Meer dies

12 March 2010 - 20:05 By Taschica Pillay and Sapa

Anti-apartheid struggle stalwart Fatima Meer has died at St Augustines Hospital in Durban at the age of 82. Meer suffered a stroke two weeks ago , from which she didn't recover, her brother Farouk Meer said.

The former SABC board member and sociologist, despite crippling banning orders, built up a reputation as a prolific academic and a powerful advocate of gender equality.

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.