Tributes from ministers, community organisations and ordinary people have been pouring in following the death of community activist, ANC stalwart and Mitchell’s Plain father, Achmat Semaar.
Mr Semaar, 72, died of a heart attack at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Pinelands on Monday April 15.
Affectionately known as Comrade Achmat, Boeta Achmat and Achmat, he was buried according to Islamic burial rites yesterday, Tuesday April 16, with family, friends and comrades paying their respects at his brother’s house in Pinelands, where their mother Fatima, 99, resides.
ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, and Patrick Solomons, director of child rights non-government organisation, Molo Songololo, were among the first to extend their condolences.
His daughter, political journalist Karima Brown, told the Plainsman that her father was indestructible in so many ways.
She said in recent weeks, despite their better judgement, hours after being discharged from hospital, he was at an ANC voters registration table in preparation for the May 8 elections.
“My father was a father to the whole community, to all of my friends. He was a comrade,” she said.
Ms Brown said her involvement as a student activist in the 1980s, when she and many other pupils were arrested under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act, in which detainees could be held without charge and without trial during apartheid, started their parents into politics, which they never stopped.
Mr Semaar was among the founding members of the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee (DPSC) in Mitchell’s Plain in the 1980s – set up by parents, spouses and families of activists who were detained and had no recourse to legal intervention.
“He would work with parents to get their children out of jail at night,” she said.
Mr Semaar worked tirelessly at grassroots level, which is what he believed in.
Ms Brown said they would continue her father’s legacy of standing up for other people. “The fight for justice is never done and I’d like his work to continue, his example of standing up for others. “Making sure they can access their rights and live in the democratic society they deserve,” she said.
She said the family was humbled by the many people expressing their grief.
Mr Semaar worked in the Mitchell’s Plain Community Advice and Development Project office, was a paralegal for Lawyers for Human Rights and retired as co-ordinator of the ANC Parliamentary Constituency Office in Mitchell’s Plain.
In 2010, he formed part of the establishment of the Mitchell’s Plain Education Forum, which gave birth to the Mitchell’s Plain Skills Centre and the Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust.
Jeremy Michaels, co-chairman of the trust, said Mr Semaar was an extraordinary activist who worked quietly behind the scenes in Mitchell’s Plain to care for those who were most vulnerable.
“Always putting the needs of others before his own.”
He said Mr Semaar was affectionately known as “Comrade Achmat” to those who worked with him, especially those who worked with him in the ANC and the Mitchell’s Plain Advice Office, with veterans like Willie Simmers and Veronica Simmers, and others.
Mr Michaels said he had fond memories of Mr Semaar’s role during the 1980s, fighting with many others to bring down the apartheid state. “During those dark days when the security police were hunting, detaining and torturing many young activists, Comrade Achmat was a constant source of comfort for both the victims of police brutality and also for our parents,” he said.
He said Mr Semaar continued to work tirelessly to transform and develop the community of Mitchell’s Plain.
He also worked closely with former Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, at the constituency office when Mr Manuel was an ANC Member of Parliament deployed to Mitchell’s Plain.
“Comrade Achmat Semaar was for decades a selfless activist, until his death. We must celebrate his life and always follow the example he set for all of us,” said Mr Michaels.
Karl Mocke, from the ANC constituency office, said Boeta Achmat played a key role in the Mitchell’s Plain Crisis Committee (MPCC) formed in 1985 in response to the arrest and detention of young students.
Mr Semaar was also a founding member and organiser of the 1983 rally at which the United Democratic Front (UDF) was formed at Rocklands civic centre on August 20.
He first lived in Westridge before moving to Strandfontein, where he was the founding member of the ANC Jean Davids branch (Ward 43), named after another parent and founding member of the MPCC and DPSC in the area.
“The ANC and Mitchell’s Plain has indeed lost a giant,” said Mr Mocke.
Courtney Edwards, a teacher at Cedar High School in Rocklands and one of the first group of bursary recipients of the Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust, said Mr Semaar was a committed South African, who passionately fought in the struggle for justice, equality and social change.
“My time with Mr Semaar allowed me to appreciate the freedom and opportunities we have as youth. I remember him assisting thousands of students to excel through education and rise above their oppressive and poverty-stricken states,” he said.
Mr Edwards said Mr Semaar was always the man on the ground, willing to assist residents with various issues. “I can reflect on his professionalism, integrity and his drive to change Mitchell’s Plain. He had a particular inner strength, related well to any person and displayed patience towards them. He had a special penchant to bring all to a point of excellence through service and teamwork,” said Mr Edwards.
Mr Edwards asked that the trust award a bursary in the spirit of Achmat Semaar at their next graduation ceremony.
ANC stalwart and community activist, Rasheda Salwary, said both she and her husband, former Ward 76 councillor and local pharmacist, Iqbal, loved Mr Semaar.
“Whenever we had community events we would always invite him, he was always there and assisted. He never got involved with internal politics. He was a selfless person and never wanted a position.
“He had a lot of knowledge and legal expertise, and always assisted the community with an open-door policy,” she said.
Colleen Daniels Horswell, chairperson of the Mitchell’s Plain Education Forum, said it was difficult coming to terms with Mr Semaar’s death. “He was a great man. He was an icon. He was a friend. He was a mentor. He was our father. He was my go-to-person for anything.
“He would give his last to help anybody in need. He was just that kind of person.
“He believed in the struggle in giving our youth a chance. He worked tirelessly on the forum and the Mitchell’s Plain Skills Centre,” she said.
Ms Daniels Horswell said Mr Semaar was committed and dedicated to the community of Mitchell’s Plain.
“He wanted the best and as heartbroken as we are, we have to live what he wanted us to do and we will carry on his memory, we will take our struggle and our processes forward for the people of Mitchell’s Plain and especially the youth. It is really a sad moment for us,” she said.
Family friend Shamiema Majiet said she met Mr Semaar many years ago when she befriended his wife, Ruschda. “Many remember him as a true activist. I remember him as a dedicated husband, father and friend.
“I consider myself fortunate to have shared many years of long conversations with Achmat, the knowledge he shared and his humour,” she said.
Ms Majiet recalled sharing a few hearty laughs last week, when visiting him in hospital. “This is how I want to remember him. I will sorely miss him,” she said.
Mr Semaar is survived by his wife Ruschda, a former National Union of Metalworkers SA shop steward and ANC member, who worked at his side; six children and 13 grandchildren.