‘We have lost a treasured friend’ - Tributes for Achmat Dangor
Durban - ARMED with a passion for literacy and a zest to challenge the status quo, Achmat Dangor went on to become one of South Africa’s most prolific writers as well as a political activist and leader.
On Sunday, Dangor died aged 71, a month before his birthday.
He was born in Johannesburg, in 1948, and is the brother of Jessie Duarte, the ANC deputy secretary general.
According to a statement by the ANC, Dangor had become interested in politics from a young age.
The party said in the 1970s, shortly after he matriculated, Dangor formed a group called Black Thoughts with several other writers to oppose Bantu Education, a system during apartheid that enforced racially-segregated educational facilities and an inferior education for blacks.
He promoted books and writings from authors in Africa and other developing countries and conducted readings in township schools.
Dangor also joined the Black Consciousness Movement and worked with Steve Biko and other political leaders.
In 1973, Dangor was banned for his political activism and work. He was also prohibited from attending social or political gatherings.
Omar Badsha, a historian and longtime friend, said despite the ban, he became active in the United Democratic Front that was formed to challenge the apartheid government.
Badsha said in 1984, Dangor was diagnosed with cancer and went to the UK for medical treatment.
“When he returned, he became responsible for the Kagiso Trust and moved on to take over the Mandela Children’s Fund.”
He later became the director at UNaids in New York and returned to South Africa to take on the role of chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2007.
Dangor also provided leadership in the Independent Development Trust, the Ford Foundation, as well as in the international developmental sector.
In addition, he taught creative writing and South African literature at the State University of New York and became a leading activist in the fight against HIV and Aids.
Badsha said he met Dangor many years ago during a workshop at the Phoenix Settlement in Durban and they became friends.
He described Dangor as a quiet, focused intellectual, who also had a humorous side.
“He had a sharp intellect and was an incredible writer. Dangor went on to head some of the biggest institutions in the country.”
Dangor published four novels from 1981 to 2001: Waiting for Leila, The Z Town Trilogy, Kafka’s Curse and Bitter Fruit; two poetry collections, Bulldozer and Private Voices, as well as a short-story collection in 2013 called Strange Pilgrimages.
He received the Herman Charles Bosman Prize for Kafka’s Curse as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Literary Awards.
Dangor was one of the founding members of the Congress of South African Writers and remained active in the cultural and developmental sectors after retirement.
Pule Mabe, the ANC spokesperson, said: “The ANC dips its banner to this revolutionary… In Achmat Dangor, the country has lost an important voice, but we can take comfort that his light will keep shining through his books and other writings.”
Anant Singh, a film producer, said: “We worked closely together during the early development of our film, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and he offered invaluable support and advice during the process.”
In 2005, they collaborated on a stage adaptation of Happy Endings, which Dangor co-wrote with Junaid Ahmed. This adaptation became the popular
Bollywood musical, Bombay Crush.
“Achmat’s loss leaves a huge void in our lives as we have lost a treasured friend.”
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said Dangor was a rare find.
Luzuko Koti, the spokesperson, said Dangor led the organisation through a challenging time of transition when Mandela stepped away from public life and in the process mentored many and for some, became a friend.
“Even when he had moved on and his plate was full with new challenges, he never stopped supporting us. It felt that he was always there.”
Sello Hatang, the foundation’s chief executive, who succeeded Dangor in 2013, said Dangor saw in him something he could not see.
“He always saw a glimmer of light through whatever storm clouds were gathering.
“This feels like the saddest and heaviest day of my professional life.”
Dangor’s brother, Zane, said: “He has left a big gap in our lives. We shared a close bond. He was humble and kind with a deep love for social justice. He introduced me to literature, the arts and the Black Conciousness Movement.”
He said after Dangor suffered a heart bypass three years ago, his health was never the same.
Zane said the last time he spoke to Dangor was two weeks ago.
“We chatted casually on WhatsApp to check how everyone was doing during the lockdown. We never expected his death to be so sudden.”
Dangor’s funeral took place on Sunday at his home in Parkhurst before he was buried at Westpark Cemetery.
He leaves behind his wife, Audrey Elster, his children, Yasmin, Zane and Zachary, his grandchildren and his brothers and sister.