Hassim Seedat: ‘We pray his example and life inspires future generations’

Hassim Seedat, a lifetime fighter for freedom and justice has passed on, aged 88. Al Qalam profiles his life.

Scores attended a memorial on Tuesday evening in Durban to pay homage to apartheid fighter, Hassim Mohamed Seedat, (88) who passed away at his home in Reservoir Hills on Eid Day.

Many of his surviving friends, family members, and activists attended a memorial service at the Orient Hall in Centenary Road.

As an activist lawyer, Seedat had defended many high profile political figures in his heyday and had founded the Democratic Lawyers Association.

In a statement, the South African Muslim Network (SAMNET) said: “Muslims are commanded unequivocally to speak truth to power, to stand with the poor, the oppressed and the disenfranchised.

“Hassim Seedat dedicated his life to this ideal. He served as an example to all of us especially in this day when patronage, material consumption and accumulation of wealth seem to be the order of the day. Hassim Seedat reminded us about servant leadership. 

“At this time we would like to also express that our country owes gratitude to his wife and family, who like the many other struggle families, sacrificed the time, freedoms and comforts to bring us to where we are today. 

“In light of his life, our best means to honor Hassim Seedat is through keeping up the fight for the principles of justice and non-racialism, and to take time to record, celebrate and convey the histories of those who, like him, have shown us the path.  We pray that his example and life inspires future generations”.

Seedat was born in Newcastle, Natal in 1930. He attended St Oswalds School and Sastri where he matriculated in 1947. He qualified as a teacher at the Springfield Teachers Training College, being part of the first group of teachers to qualify from this institution when it was opened in 1951.

He taught at Ballengeich Indian School before proceeding to London where he enrolled with the London Education Council and took up a temporary teaching assignment whilst studying to obtain his Barrister-at-Law. He was called to the Bar in 1960.

Seedat lived at Down Hills, Park Road, with his cousin Tony Seedat, and Mac Maharaj and Kader Asmal, amongst many, who stayed with him when they first landed in London.

Whilst in London he was active in the anti-apartheid campaigns mounted in the UK by the Anti-Apartheid Committee.

He was an articled clerk to Attorney NT Naicker, a prominent NIC activist and treason trialist. He subsequently established a legal practice in Durban, and was later joined by Thumba Pillay and Ebrahim Goga.

Seedat defended a number of political activists and was detained for a month in 1966 in connection with the trial of MD Naidoo who was sentenced to five years on Robben Island. He was active in the NIC when it was revived in 1971. He was elected a Council member of the Natal Law Society in 1980, the first black member to hold this office in the country. In 1987 he was elected Treasurer of the Natal Indian Congress and was part of the NIC/TIC delegation that held discussions with the then banned ANC in Lusaka in 1988 on the architecture of a post-apartheid SA society.

He is a former member of the Democratic Lawyers Association, the first black law organisation in the country. He was a past chairman of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) South African Chapter based in Durban.

The Organisation is one of many around the world, representing about 20 million Indians living outside India. Seedat contributed to The South African Gandhi 1893-1914, edited by Fatima Meer, and wrote a series of articles on Gandhi in South Africa which appeared in The Leader during 1979 and 1980.

In 1994 he was approached by Dullah Omar, then Minister of Justice, to be a judge but Hassim declined on account of his age.

 Seedat served on the Councils of both the ML Sultan Technikon and the Durban University of Technology. He was a member of the Gandhi Development Trust Management Committee, served on the Editorial Board of Satyagraha – In Pursuit of Truth – a Gandhi inspired monthly newspaper and chairman of the Freedom Park Trust History Durban Committee.

Seedat had the most extensive collection of books, pamphlets, magazines, brochures and memorabilia on Gandhi’s South African years, as well as general material on Indians in South Africa. He was also the chair of the Mota Varachha Trust which was founded in 1906 by villagers from the Mota Varachha who settled in Natal.

Seedat leaves behind his wife Farreda and three children, Yusuf, Imraan, and Shirin – and three grandchildren.

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