16 March 2004
A true patriot, builder, unifier, leader and humblest of persons. These were among the tributes paid to the late Transport Minister Dullah Omar.
The former justice and constitutional development minister, who died in the early hours of Saturday morning, was buried close to his home in Rylands on the Cape Flats on Saturday afternoon.
Omar was last week admitted to the Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic, where he finally lost a long battle against a cancer of the lymph nodes.
Hundreds of South Africans packed into the Vygieskraal Stadium on Sunday to pay their last respects to a comrade, friend, neighbour and colleague. Several cabinet colleagues, Deputy President Jacob Zuma, premiers, members of Parliament and religious leaders also attended the funeral.
Paying tribute to the minister, Nelson Mandela described his first meeting with Omar while incarcerated on Robben Island. Omar was then a human rights lawyer who took up many legal battles on behalf of political prisoners.
“Omar was a man of his promise; if he promised he would do something, he did it”, Mandela said. He said Omar was attached not only to a political party, but also to the people of South Africa.
President Thabo Mbeki said the country had lost a great leader and freedom fighter, who used his education to the benefit of his people. “It is difficult to be as humble as Dullah Omar was, it is difficult to follow in his footsteps, but all of us have to try”, Mbeki said.
Western Cape Finance and Economic Development MEC Ebrahim Rasool said it was Omar’s wish to have a humble burial. The coffin was carried from Omar’s home on Mabel Road to the nearby Vygieskraal Stadium. Mbeki and other cabinet ministers joined in the walk.
Zanele Mbeki, the president’s wife, and Albertina Sisulu, the widow of the late struggle veteran Walter Sisulu, remained at the house to comfort Farieda Omar, the late minister’s widow.
At the stadium the SA Navy draped the national flag over the coffin.
Omar was laid to rest at the Doornhoogte cemetery, down the road from the stadium, from where his coffin was carried shoulder-high by mourners.
He leaves his wife, three children, two daughters-in-law, and two grandsons.
A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday evening at the Guguletu Indoor Sport Stadium in Cape Town.
A life lived for a free South Africa
Adullah Mohammed Omar was born in Observatory, Cape Town on 26 May 1934, one of 11 children. He lived in Cape Town his entire life.
Omar matriculated from the Trafalgar High School in Cape Town, and went to study law at the University of Cape Town, where graduated with an LLB degree in 1957.
He was admitted as an attorney in 1960, and as an advocate of the Supreme Court in 1982. During practice both as an attorney and an advocate, he served deprived communities, involving civil and criminal defence work and handling housing, pass laws, labour and work related cases.
He acted as a defence lawyer for numerous prisoners serving sentences at Robben Island and elsewhere, and legal representative to a number of trade unions as well as civic and religious organisations.
He was a defence lawyer in many political trials involving members of banned organisations such as the African National Congress, Pan Africanist Congress and Black Consciousness Movement charged with resistance activities against the apartheid regime.
Omar was chairperson of the United Democratic Front (UDF) Western Cape Region in 1987 and 1988, and vice-president from 1988 until the UDF’s dissolution in 1991.
He was national vice-president and Western Cape regional president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, a trustee of the South African Legal Defence Fund, and a commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of South Africa.
He served as director of the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape until his appointment as South Africa’s first minister of justice in a democratically elected government in 1994.
He was elected to the ANC’s national executive committee in 1991, and as chairperson of the ANC in the Western Cape in 1996, and was a member of the ANC negotiating team that forged the constitutional and political settlement in South Africa.
Omar served as minister of justice from 1994 to 1999, and was also the minister responsible for intelligence. He was the first member of cabinet to be appointed Acting President in the absence of both the President and the Deputy President.
He was appointed transport minister in June 1999, after the country’s second democratic elections.
Omar was honoured with two Doctorates of Law, from the University of Fort Hare in 1993 and the University of Durban Westville in 1996. He has also been honoured with awards in the US, Chile and Germany for his contribution to the struggle for human rights in South Africa.