OPINION

Rhoda Kadalie’s journey to Trump supporter

Joel Pollak |

08 April 2022

Joel Pollak says the SA human rights activist saw the US President as a ‘skollie’, able to shake things up

Rhoda Kadalie is a black feminist who was active in the struggle against apartheid, served in President Nelson Mandela’s administration on South Africa’s Human Rights Commission, and worked with George Soros to fund development projects in poor communities.

Now living in Los Angeles (she is my mother-in-law), Rhoda was also an early supporter of President Donald Trump, and remains so today. Her journey holds lessons for a nation still wrestling with race and democracy.

Born in 1953 in Cape Town’s diverse District Six (later to be destroyed by the apartheid regime), Rhoda grew up classified as “Coloured,” or mixed-race. Her grandfather had been Clements Kadalie, a Malawian migrant who was the first black trade unionist in South Africa.

Her father was a musician-turned-pastor who moved the family to the suburb of Mowbray to run the city’s public laundry. But the area was declared “white,” and all of its black families were evicted in the early 1970s.

Rhoda attended the University of the Western Cape, a segregated campus devoted to the Coloured population. Inspired by writer Steve Biko and his philosophy of Black Consciousness, students were beginning to protest against apartheid and to reject distinctions among its “non-white” victims.

Rhoda began speaking out for the role of women, who were overlooked and even abused by male leaders in the movement. As a faculty member, she later set up the campus’s Gender Equity Unit. As a result of her efforts, women at the university won benefits such as equal pay, maternity leave, and protections from sexual harassment.

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Rhoda also participated in discussions about the inclusion of women’s rights in South Africa’s new constitution. Her efforts gained nationwide attention, and following the first multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, she was appointed by Mandela to the Human Rights Commission. She became its most active member and most recognized public face.

Rhoda demanded that South Africa live up to the standards of its new democratic order. Having studied at The Hague in the 1980s with women from around the world who were activists in their own country’s liberation struggles, she knew that post-colonial governments were prone to corruption and institutional failure. When the ruling African National Congress (ANC) began to falter in its commitment to human rights, she resigned her position in protest, urging Mandela to adopt reforms.

She then launched Impumelelo, an organization that supported successful private-public partnerships in poor communities. With funding from Soros and other donors, she also created a database of best practices she hoped the government would use to expand upon local successes.