1 February 2013
South Africans from across the political spectrum have paid tribute to Amina Cachalia, a staunch anti-apartheid activist and long-time friend of former president Nelson Mandela, who passed away on Thursday, aged 82.
“A seasoned campaigner for women’s rights and one of the liberation movement’s foremost stalwarts, Amina came from a fiercely political family and dedicated her life full-on to the emancipation of all oppressed people in South Africa,” the Presidency said in a statement on Friday.
Her political activism saw her play leading roles as a member of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress and Transvaal Indian Congress, as treasurer of the Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) and as patron of the Federation of Transvaal Women, among others.
‘Tireless fighter for liberation’
“Our country has lost one of the most tireless and consummate fighters for liberation that we have known,” President Jacob Zuma said, “and we would like to express our heartfelt condolences to her family, friends, comrades and all who had the privilege of knowing her.”
Cachalia had several stints in prison, including when she was arrested during the 1952 Defiance Campaign and also participated in the 1956 Women’s March against apartheid pass laws, and became a banned person at various stages.
African National Congress (ANC) spokesman Jackson Mthembu said “Comrade Amina” was “among the women who are credited for having placed gender equity firmly as a site of struggle and aligned it to broader struggles led by the ANC. As an individual she lived through the pain of police harassment, imprisonment, house arrests, banning and humiliation.”
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said, that, as a member of the Indian Youth Congress and founder of the Women’s Progressive Union, Cachalia “fought fiercely to overcome injustice and racial discrimination”.
Zille said that Cachalia, together with Helen Joseph, Lillian Ngoyi and Ida Mtwana, had founded Fedsaw, which led 20 000 women on the 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
A Member of Parliament after South Africa’s first democratic elections of 1994, Cachalia received the Order of Luthuli in recognition of a life spent fighting for freedom and democracy.
‘Travelled a long road with Mr Mandela’
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said on Friday that it had learned with great sadness of Cachalia’s passing.
“Amina Cachalia travelled a long road with Mr Mandela and his family. She and her husband Yusuf were friends with Mr Mandela in the years before he went to prison,” the foundation said in a statement.
“After he was imprisoned in 1962, they kept in touch through letters. Only after he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison was he finally allowed to be visited by Mrs Cachalia and her husband.
“They resumed their friendship after his release in 1990. In 1995 Mrs Cachalia assisted him at a luncheon he arranged for the widows of leaders from across the political spectrum. As the widow of apartheid prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd could not attend, Mr Mandela travelled to the white enclave of Orania to visit her. Mrs Cachalia accompanied him.
“On 1 June 1986, when he was in Pollsmoor Prison, he wrote her a letter saying: ‘I love you and Yusuf very much and you are always in my thoughts … There is, therefore, no danger whatsoever of me forgetting you.'”