Cape Town -

Ina Perlman, humanitarian and founder of non-profit organisation Operation Hunger, died on Thursday morning after a brief illness at the age of 86, her family said in a statement.

“Throughout her life Ina was a passionate and stubborn fighter for social justice. She believed strongly that lots of small changes would eventually bring about major shifts, and even in apartheid’s darkest days she was never discouraged, and seldom dismayed.”

Her family said she had the following quote on her wall by US activist Norman Thomas, which read: “My life has not been spent in serving lost causes. My life has been spent in serving causes not yet won.”

They said that in this spirit she put everything into her work, whether it was at Operation Hunger or in community projects in Nature’s Valley in the southern Cape, where she spent her last years. She always said she was greatly enriched in return.

“We mourn her passing, but celebrate a life lived to the full.”

Perlman leaves behind four children and six grandchildren.

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory also sent its condolences.

“On behalf of our chairperson, board of trustees, founder and staff we send our deepest condolences to her family, friends, her children Rosemary, David, Harriet and John and her grandchildren,” spokesman Sello Hatang said in a statement.

She was the mother of well-known radio journalist John Perlman.

Hatang said Perlman would be remembered for her great work on behalf of the poor and how she helped to feed millions of people throughout South Africa.

She was involved in the formation of Operation Hunger, a national feeding and self-help scheme, in 1980. Three years later she became its executive director. When she retired in 1993, she had developed Operation Hunger into an organisation that was feeding over two million people. About 50 000 people benefited from its self-help projects.

“She also hired (former president Nelson) Mandela's daughter Zindzi in the dark days of apartheid, and assisted Winnie Mandela in starting a creche, after she was banished to a bare and unforgiving existence in the harsh Free State town of Brandfort.”

Hatang said a memorial service would be held at 12.30pm on Wednesday July 4, at Temple Emanuel in Parktown, Johannesburg. - Sapa