Tributes stream in for ‘fearless’ rights champion

Rhoda Kadalie, 68, has died of cancer.

Tributes have streamed in for political activist Rhoda Kadalie, 68, who died at the weekend.

Ms Kadalie died at her home in Los Angeles, America, where she had been living with her family.

A statement from her son-in-law, Joel Pollak, on behalf of the family, said she had been diagnosed with lung cancer last year, despite never having smoked, and battled quietly.

“She continued to write and to enjoy life; she was blessed to have her sister, Judy, at her side in her last weeks. In her last hours, she listened to Gospel music and was surrounded by love.”

Ms Kadalie campaigned against apartheid and served as commissioner of the Human Rights Commission during Nelson Mandela’s presidency.

Rhoda Kadalie pictured with former president Nelson Mandela.

She was a staunch advocate of women and children’s rights, leading the launch of the Goal4Kids initiative, which provided scholarships to needy children for every one of the 16 goals scored by the German national soccer team in the 2010 World Cup.

Born in District Six in 1953, she was the daughter of Pastor Fenner Kadalie and Joan Kadalie, and the granddaughter of Clements Kadalie, the first black trade union leader in South Africa.

Ms Kadalie and her family, including eight siblings, were forcibly removed from Mowbray in the early 1970s. She matriculated from Harold Cressy High School and earned degrees in library science and anthropology from UWC. She later earned a master’s degree from the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, and received several honorary doctorates.

In 2017, at the University of Stellenbosch Business School in Bellville, she led a panel discussion on taxes with Judge Bernard Ngoepe, Professor André Roux and Professor Willie Breytenbach.

She founded the Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre at Stellenbosch University and the Gender Equity Unit at UWC.

“She was pushing (LGBTQ) rights in the 80s when it was not in vogue,” said Chris Mingo, who has known Ms Kadalie since 1992.

Mr Mingo met her at UWC and worked with her at the first District Six land claims unit, the Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa, and the Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre.

“Rhoda upheld a high level of detail as an academic. Working with her, you had to stay sharp at all times,” Mr Mingo said, describing her as a staunch supporter of the constitution.

“She demanded excellence at all times, and when you didn’t deliver at all times you would be in trouble. I am today what I am because of what she taught me.

“What stands out for me was she was a mentor, a confidante, a teacher. She treated everyone the same. She was an innovator who was ahead of her time. She was talking about social innovation in 2002 already.”

Colleen Bröcker, who worked as Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre’s spokesperson before Ms Kadalie left the organisation for America, said: “Rhoda was a formidable, strong leader and activist. Her work at Impumelelo inspired change and innovation in service delivery across the country over two decades.”

Ms Kadalie was succeeded at the UWC Gender Equity Unit by Dr Mary Hames, who described her as “fierce and fearless”.

“What she has done for women, not only at the university, but countrywide, is immeasurable,” said Dr Hames.

Ms Kadalie had brought gender issues to the fore at a time when they had been pushed to the periphery, she added.

UWC rector and vice-chancellor Professor Tyrone Pretorius described Ms Kadalie as an “influential giant who made a telling contribution” to UWC and the broader liberation of women “through her tireless pursuit of human rights and dignity”.

During her time at UWC, Ms Kadalie had relentlessly pursued conditions for women to be promoted to professorships and for them to be represented in leadership roles, he said.

“We have lost an influential giant who made a telling contribution – not only to UWC but to the broader liberation of women in our society and through her tireless pursuit of human rights and dignity.”

Acting mayor Dr Zahid Badroodien described Ms Kadalie as “a selfless Capetonian who stood up for the rights of others”.

“Ms Kadalie was an active resident of Cape Town, and contributed immensely to building a strong and values-based social fabric in Cape Town. Ms Kadalie aimed to uplift all those around her. Our City will be poorer without her.” – Additional reporting by the Cape Times.