Indian origin South African politician dead

Asmal, a former South African cabinet minister, an academician and a lawyer, breathed his last at a Cape Town hospital on Wednesday afternoon. He was 76.

President Jacob Zuma said he will be given a state funeral, with flags flying at half-mast throughout the country and its missions across the globe.

Highly lauded by politicians from across the spectrum and all sections of civil society, Asmal was instrumental in drafting the new South African constitution after he returned to the country in the 1990's as democracy dawned with the release of former president Nelson Mandela.

While others wondered why Mandela had relegated him to a supposedly junior position of Minister of Water Affairs in his first government, Asmal's efforts in bringing drinking water to the poorest rural communities are lauded even today.

His pioneering efforts in dealing with issues related to water have been honoured with several international awards and he even went on to become the vice-president of the World Commission on the Oceans.

Asmal then became Minister of Education, with lesser success as he introduced a new curriculum, before quitting the ministry in protest against a decision to disband an elite investigate unit which had probed a number of cases involving high-profile government members.

Until his last breath, the outspoken Asmal continued to voice protest against plans to curb media freedom by the same African National Congress that he had fought for all his life.

He vehemently opposed the planned introduction of a law which will include a government-run media tribunal, that he believed, like many others, would interfere with the freedom of the press.

Despite Asmal breaking from the ANC tradition of not raising concerns outside its ranks, the party said in a statement that he was "one of the movement's foremost intellectual giants."

Asmal, who received seven honorary doctorates from Irish and South African universities, is survived by his wife Louise and two sons.

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