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A tribute to Dr Abu-baker Asvat

A great man is dead. Murdered. Shot dead in cold blood.

His name was Dr Abu-Baker Asvat — and his death has left a great pain and sadness in the hearts of all who knew him.

It is not often that you find somebody who believes that his people come first, above everything. Above politics. Above money. Above himself, even. Dr Asvat was one such person. He gave his whole life to the care of his people — the sick, the disabled, the homeless, the squatters, and the poor.

Dr Asvat — known as Abu to his friends — was a true doctor. Often, he gave medical treatment to his patients for free. Sometimes, he dug deep into his own pockets to help poor people with food and accommodation. Always, he gave his time — at all hours of the night and day.


Dr Asvat was murdered by an unknown gunman on 27 January this year. He was killed while working at his surgery in Rockville, Soweto.

Immediately, messages of grief started to pour in.

The National Medical and Dental Association (Namda) wrote: “His assassination is a tragic loss to all the people of South Africa.”

The Health Workers’ Association (HWA) said: “South Africa has lost a true son of the soil. But through his death, a new commitment will be born among all health workers.”

At a memorial service in Soweto, the President of COSATU, Elijah Barayi said: “Dr Asvat’s memory will live on in the minds of the people. Dr Asvat cared for our families and our children. Acts of violence like his murder will not destroy our wish to be free.”

But even sadder were the words of the doctor’s patients. One patient said: “Dr Asvat could not hurt a fly. He was like a father to the hundreds of people he served.”

Another old pensioner added: “The killers thought they were killing the doctor, but they did not know that they were really killing a people that is already down on its knees. His death has left us dead too.”


Dr Asvat’s long-time friend and nurse, Ma Albertina Sisulu, also wept. But she could not talk about her grief — she is a banned person and newspapers cannot report her words.

For many years, Ma Sisulu and Dr Asvat worked together nursing the sick and the needy and giving comfort to the poor. Some people thought this was a strange friendship because Dr Asvat and Ma Sisulu belonged to different political organisations.

Dr Asvat was a member of the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO). Albertina Sisulu is one of the presidents of the United Democratic Front (UDF). But their different political beliefs did not matter to them. For them, the most important thing was to serve the community in the way they knew best — with generous love and care.

Ma Sisulu was at the clinic when the doctor was murdered. She was the first person to rush to his side after the shooting.

It was not the first attack on the doctor’s life. Two years ago, two knifemen tried to kill him. The doctor fought off his attackers and he was cut on the mouth.

A few months later, he was attacked again, this time by a right-wing gunman. Luckily, the doctor was able to stop him.

Afterwards, Dr Asvat said: “It was the closest I have come to looking at death in the face. But it will not stop me from serving the community.”


Serving the community is something that Dr Asvat had been doing for a long time. After he got his degree in medicine in Pakistan, he came back home to Vrededorp where he worked as a doctor. When the government destroyed Vrededorp fifteen years ago, he moved his clinic to Rockville.

In 1979, he joined AZAPO. He became the Secretary of Health for this organisation. He was also a founder member of the Health Workers Association (HWA).

But Dr Asvat was not only interested in health matters. He was the chairperson of the People’s Education Committee in Lenasia. He was also president of the Crescents Cricket Club and vice- president of the Cricket Association of the Transvaal.

With so much to do, Dr Asvat still found time to be a family man. He was married and had three children. As Namda wrote: “Abu was a family man committed to his community and people, a man who gave his life for the poor and the have-nots of this land.”

Dr Asvat’s good work was rewarded when the Indicator newspaper chose him as the winner of their Human Rights Award in 1988. The Star newspaper nominated him for ‘The Star of the Community’ award in 1988.


Dr Abu-Baker Asvat was laid to rest at Avalon cemetery, under a bridge between Lenasia and Soweto. Six thousand people from all corners of the country and all walks of life came to pay their respects.

Together, Muslims and non-Muslims, nuns and priests, nurses and doctors, blacks and whites, AZAPO and UDF members, COSATU and NACTU officials, bowed their heads in tribute to this great man. They were united in grief and sorrow.

Even in death, Dr Asvat brought people together. He was a bridge-builder— and the finest tribute we can pay him would be to build on the foundations that he so bravely and lovingly laid.

NEW WORDS grief— sadness or sorrow commitment — a person with commitment believes strongly in something and works hard for it generous — a generous person is somebody who gives a lot a founder member — one of the first members to start an organisation


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