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Southern Africa Report Archive

David McDonald writes an obituary for this friend of SAR. (jbv)

vol 15 no 2

Zunade Dharsey - 1960-1999
David McDonald

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Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 15 No 2, February 2000
Page 33

ZUNADE DHARSEY - 1960-1999


David McDonald is engaged in southern Africa research at Queens University, Kingston, Canada.

If it had not been for Zunade Dharsey I would not have gone to Cape Town. I would not have met many of the people who were to become close friends and colleagues over the years. And I would not have learned to value so much the places where Zunade grew up and where his kids still live and grow.

Private thoughts, but in speaking so personally I know I reflect the feelings of many others who found in Zunade not only an outstanding example of the thousands of South Africans, more and less well-known, who gave so much of themselves to the struggle to transform their country, but also an outstanding example of that important group of South Africans who, while residing here, helped make South Africa and the struggle of its people so alive and meaningful for many Canadians.

Zunade had an organic connection to his own place that gave him both a keen sense of the political complexities that make up the Western Cape as well as a love of its physical beauty. It was, in fact, this love of both the social and the physical that led to his untimely death on December 26, 1999. Enjoying the beach with friends, Zunade rushed into the sea to help one of them who was caught in a coastal under-tow. He was then himself pulled under and drowned. In the words of one Cape Town newspaper, "He died as he lived: helping others."

Born in Johannesburg in 1960, Zunade moved with his family to Cape Town in 1969. In 1978, while training as a teacher, he was arrested for "political activities" and detained at the infamous Victor Verster Prison for nine months without being charged. He continued his studies in prison, despite several spells of solitary confinement, went on to teach in various schools in the Cape Flats for 11 years, and remained politically active in the anti-apartheid struggle. In the uprisings of 1986, he was again arrested and imprisoned by the apartheid state on trumped-up charges of robbery and assault (charges that were later thrown out by the Magistrate).

Zunade completed a degree in education at the University of the Western Cape and taught at the university for several years before leaving for Canada to study for a Masters degree in education at OISE at the University of Toronto in the early 1990s. While in Canada, Zunade continued his political activism. He was a member of the Steering Committee of the South Africa Canada Education Connection and was frequently called upon to speak to students, teachers and other groups about South Africa. He never refused, and was always well received. In 1994, he co-produced a teacher resource package on South Africa's first democratic election which was widely used at the time and is still available as a curricular resource. Zunade was also involved in organizing conferences and other events on a wide range of topics and put his heart and soul into whatever he did.

After completing his M.Ed, Zunade returned to Cape Town to become a Circuit Manager in Mitchell's Plain for the Western Cape Department of Education (the equivalent of a School Superintendent in North America). Dealing with an entrenched, apartheid-era bureaucracy and a National Party provincial government did not make things easy, but Zunade set about his task with his usual vigour and managed to revitalize and stabilize one of the most violence-racked school districts in the country.

From there, Zunade went on to become the Manager of the Centres of Excellence Programme at the parastatal, Telkom SA, responsible for developing and maintaining postgraduate research and development centres in the field of telecommunications at twenty-six higher education institutions in South Africa. But his real love was with grass-roots activism, and Zunade returned to Cape Town in October of last year to become director of the Amy Biehl Foundation - a large, non-profit organization committed to education, capacity building and poverty alleviation in communities.

Zunade was a man so full of life it is hard to imagine it being taken away from him. His energy and drive were contagious and his wide range of knowledge and interests meant that he had no lack of places to focus these efforts. However, it was his enormous generosity that I will remember him for most. A generosity of spirit that allowed him to give and love and share in a way that I, for one, can only hope to attempt to emulate.

He will be terribly missed by many, many people in Canada and South Africa.

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