Rhoda Kadalie unflinchingly cuts to the chase with her direct and assertive approach to gender and human rights, as well as politics in South Africa. She has a strong anti-apartheid profile but in September 2011 resigned somewhat controversially from the Stellenbosch University Council over the appointment of the lesser qualified of two candidates to a senior post and the dilution of academic excellence in the name of transformation.

She’s the granddaughter of Clements Kadalie, one of the first black trade unionist in South Africa, an academic, anthropologist, human rights activist, newspaper columnist and social commentator - and is admired (and sometimes feared) for her no-nonsense and forthright attitude. She’s recently released her first book, a compilation of her columns, appropriately titled: In your face – Passionate conversations about people and politics.

Kadalie was born on 22 September 1953 in District Six and grew up with seven brothers and a sister 16 years her junior in Mowbray before her family was moved, in her final year of high school, to the “coloured” area of Athlone, on the Cape Flats, under the Group Areas Act.

The family ran without gender stereotypical roles under a mother who made it clear she wasn’t willing to be anyone’s slave – which imbued a healthy sense of gender equality and fairness in Kadalie. She learnt the quality of assertiveness from her mother; and as the daughter of a pastor, Kadalie grew up with strong Christian values, principle among which was respect.

After completing her studies at Harold Cressy High School she went on to study library science and anthropology completing her arts degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) where she developed an interest in politics and women’s rights. Kadalie went on to lecture at the University of Cape Town’s summer school, and after completing her masters at the Institute for Social Science in the Netherlands, she returned to UWC to lecture anthropology and went on to play a founding role in the UWC’s Office of Gender Equity.

While bringing up her daughter, Julia, largely as a single mother, she campaigned against the attitude the women’s rights should be sacrificed in the name of a unified political struggle and, although labelled a bourgeois Western feminist, continued undeterred to campaign against sexual harassment and rape on campus.

With Kadalie’s influence, as one of a group of women to campaign for women’s rights as human rights on the UWC campus, the university was the first campus to develop a sexual harassment policy. They also successfully campaigned for maternity and paternity benefits for academics, equal housing benefits – as well as push for the promotion of women in the academic hierarchy.

Kadalie left her life as an activist academic at UWC to take up an appointment from Nelson Mandela as a Human Rights Commissioner for the Western and Northern Cape in 1995 but she left after three years when she realised that people were being paid “gravy-train salaries” while cheating taxpayers as a result of inadequate leadership, control and direction.

In 1998 she headed up the Land Claims Commission for District Six to deal with 2,000 unprocessed land claims – an issue close to her heart. The R1.7million budget for the first year never materialised and Kadalie left the Commission in 1999, disappointed after being told to pay over the funding she’d raised for her office to a central kitty.

In 1999 the University of Uppsala in Sweden awarded Kadalie an honorary doctorate in liberal arts and she founded the Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust in the same year. Under Kadalie’s directorship, the non-profit Impumelelo provides financial assistance to innovative and well-run public-private partnerships that improve the quality of life of the poor in South Africa – with a focus on building capacity for service delivery.

Kadalie was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature from UWC in 2007 and is a regular columnist in Die Burger and Beeld.

Apart from humanitarian work in her role as executive director at Impumelelo (now known as the Impumelelo Social Innovation Centre) Kadalie serves on the Rhodes Scholarship Committee, the University of Cape Town Council and served on the Stellenbosch University Council before her resignation in 2011.

Dubbed the ANC’s internal critic she’s anti-transformation and affirmative action if it means South Africans, especially poor South Africans, have to suffer incompetence and lack of service delivery as a result.

Kadalie plays a tireless and vital role in keeping our politicians honest – or at least more honest than they would be otherwise – and deserves our thanks as a champion of equal rights for all.


This article was published by Absa Platinum - a monthly banking ezine for platinum customers.