Thu, 29 Dec 2011 11:30:52 GMT

South African political veteran Rajbansi dies

From Fakir Hassan
Durban, Dec 29 (PTI) Charismatic and controversial South African Indian politician Amichand Rajbansi, 69, today died here in a hospital where he was admitted two months ago for a bronchial condition.

"He died today of natural causes," Patrick Pillay, spokesman for the Rajbansi family said in a statement.

He died just a fortnight short of his 70th birthday.

Nicknamed "The Bengal Tiger" because of his fiery nature, Rajbansi courted political controversy throughout his career but remained popular with a section of the Indian community which repeatedly voted him back into positions through his Minority Front party.

Rajbansi and his wife, pharmacist Shameen Thakur, were the only two representatives of the party in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature.

Although Rajbansi claimed to have honed his political skills through working with leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) such as Albert Luthuli, Moses Mabhida and Nelson Mandela.

However, he angered those opposing white minority rule when he chose to support first the South African Indian Council and then the tri-cameral parliamentary system instituted by the minority white government to give Indians and coloureds their own parliaments, but excluding the majority black community completely.

Rajbansi became the Leader of the House of Delegates, as the Indian parliamentary wing was known, with his New National Party, becoming very powerful in the process.

But his career was as colourful and controversial as the flamboyant image he projected.

In 1998, then white minority National Party Prime Minister PW Botha sacked Rajbansi after the James Commission into alleged irregularities committed by Rajbansi described him as "arrogant", "unscrupulous", "ruthless" and a "mean-minded bully".

A decade after the first democratic elections in 1994 that saw Nelson Mandela become President, Rajbansi, by now having renamed his party the Minority Front, became a kingmaker giving the ANC a majority after he threw his lot in with them.

In return, he was rewarded the post of Sports Minister in his home province, but lost this during the last elections.

In January 2009, Rajbansi received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the India International Friendship Society in New Delhi.

The award to Rajbansi caused a stir in South Africa when cleverly-crafted advertisements placed by him suggested that it was an award from the Indian government, rather than one from a volunteer organisation.

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