In Memory of Fatima Meer 1928-2010

March 17th, 2010

Email This Blog Post Email This Blog Post Filed under: New Village Commons— Janice Sapigao @ 3:33 pm

by Louise Dunlap

Photo by Victor Dlamini

Photo by Victor Dlamini

An awesome figure in the struggle against apartheid died on Friday, with too little attention from the US Press. Fatima Meer–scholar & writer, biographer of Nelson Mandela, continuing friend of Winnie, strategist and risk-taking activist since her teens–died in Durban at age 81. The South African and international press have covered Fatima’s life and independent thinking–her dozens of books, her founding of an Institute for Black Research in the very heart of apartheid, her dramatic history of bannings and detentions, her honorary degrees (some from US universities), her script for an Indian film of Gandhi’s South African years and her rescue of his possessions when his settlement was attacked. Among those who knew and worked with her, countless stories of Fatima’s bold contributions circulate. She deserves fuller attention in this country.

I met Professor Meer several times starting in the mid-90s when she visited her daughter’s family in Cambridge en route to an honorary degree at Bennett College in North Carolina. Besides being one of the great, bold leaders in South Africa in those times, Fatima and her husband, attorney Ismail Meer, nurtured a continuing legacy. In the 90s, her daughter Shamim Meer and son-in-law Bobby Marie, longtime anti-apartheid activists themselves, were at MIT and Harvard preparing to take new roles supporting grassroots change in the new South Africa and their children with them. In Cambridge I heard Fatima’s grandson Zen give a rousing valedictorian speech at the King Middle School, denouncing the apartheid he noted in the city’s neighborhoods. He is now part of Johannesburg’s socially-conscious art world, while granddaughter Maia carries on her mother’s and grandmother’s work for social justice. Fatima’s feisty spirit had family roots, was nourished in the hardships of apartheid, and continued through the vicious inequities of current times. Her family–and all of us–can draw strength from her life.

Thank you Fatima!

Louise Dunlap is the author of the book Undoing the Silence. She began her career as an activist writing instructor during the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. She learned that listening and gaining a feel for audience are as important to social transformation as the outspoken words of student leaders atop police cars.

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2 Responses to “In Memory of Fatima Meer 1928-2010”

  1. such a beautifully composed eulogy to fatima. i sent it to my list which includes 3 south african activists, all of whom i suspect already knew the news but might have been heartened by louise’s glowing, crisp portrayal of a remarkable woman.

    Comment by skip schiel — March 18, 2010 @ 3:53 am

  2. Fatima Meer spent a month in the United States in the 1970’s as a guest of the United States Information Agency. Cultural
    Exchange Program. She traveled around the US during this trip.

    Comment by bill topolsky — December 24, 2011 @ 8:12 pm


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