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Sunday February 25, 2007

Burning spirit in Fatimah

Tun Fatimah Hashim, Malaysia's first woman minister, joined the struggle for independence while in her 20s when she saw the lack of facilities and infrastructure under colonial rule. 

FIGHTING for the country’s independence and being involved in politics often meant that Tun Fatimah Hashim had to be away from her husband and children for days on end. Sometimes she was home for just 10 days in a month as she bustled from place to place to attend meetings and give speeches. 

But she fondly remembers packing her three eldest children in a car and travelling from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur with her husband, the late Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Yusof, to celebrate Malaya's emergence from British rule. 

She was head of Kaum Ibu Malaya, later known as Wanita Umno, at the time (and was at the helm for 16 years until 1972). Making her children understand what independence meant was also part of her routine. 

Fatimah attended the ceremony at Stadium Merdeka with her husband. They stayed at the late Tun Sardon Jubir's house in Kuala Lumpur and the couple took the children around the city. 

“I would often tell them I had a job to do. And when I was away from home, I would phone them and ask how they were, whether they had eaten or not. 

“During their birthdays, I would send cards and pen my hopes for them. I told them to work hard to be successful in life. I did this before and after independence, and I know my children understand the fight for Merdeka,” she said.  

The former Welfare Services minister has six children (Datin Mariam, Mohamad Shah, Prof Datuk Dr Khalid, Ali, Abdul Karim and Faridah), 18 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. 

The petite-framed freedom fighter who is Umno's 315th member joined the struggle for independence when she was in her 20s. 

She saw then that there were inadequate facilities and infrastructure, especially for healthcare and education, for the people under colonial rule. 

She recalls that during her visits to Kota Baru, she had to wait for the water level to subside before she could cross the river to visit villagers because there were no bridges. Fatimah said that working side by side with luminaries such as Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tan Sri Khir Johari and Tun Abdul Razak was a great experience, and they treated each other like family. 

“I was like a kakak to Senu and adik to Khir Johari. Tunku was like a father to us. 

“We did not fight for independence for the sake of fame. It was for our country. 

“Semangat saya berkobar-kobar. (I had the fighting spirit). My ambition was to be a freedom fighter and I am thankful that we got our independence without any bloodshed,” she said. 

She said it was the Tunku's leadership and intelligence that paved the way for a peaceful independence from the British. The nation's independence came two years earlier, she added, because the communist insurgency had been dealt with. 

Fatimah – the founder and former president of the National Council of Women's Organisations – has a “no-nonsense” air about her and is still a “tough cookie” at 83. But she is clearly a doting mother when she talks about her children. 

“They are all highly educated. None of them dropped out. They took care of themselves and now they have their own families and I am proud of them. Rasa sayang pada ibu nampak sangat (Their love for me is obvious),” she said. 

The Kadir clan takes annual holidays to celebrate her birthday (Dec 25, 1924). Last year, the clan of more than 50 people gathered on Pulau Jerejak. When Abdul Kadir was alive, the family would get together for their wedding anniversary (Dec 23). 

Independence, Fatimah insisted, had created opportunities in various fields such as education for the younger generation, including her children. 

“These are the fruits of independence. The Westerners used to look down on us, especially the Malays, but we have shown that we are capable of running our own country. 

“I pray to Allah that the younger generation will know of our fight for Merdeka and take care of this country,” she said. 

After independence, her husband continued to encourage her to be involved in politics. 

“He was my 'driver' and would accompany me to meetings. Even Tun Abdul Razak teased him about that,” she said of Abdul Kadir, who was Attorney-General and Law minister. 

“He was in government service and could not be active in politics. He told me not to sit at home but to continue fighting and help the poor. 

“He said that if I wanted to see change, I had to be active and that I had to have a voice in Parliament if I wanted to improve the status of women,” she said. 

These days, poor health restricts her from venturing far from her home in Bangsar but Fatimah still keeps track of the country's development and political situation. 

“I fill my days with things to do and I keep a daily journal – it helps me stay alert,” she said.  

For Fatimah, Independence Day is still fresh in her memory. She cried that day in the stadium, she said. 

“I could not sleep the night before. We had an Umno ceremony at the Royal Selangor Club field and then went to the stadium in the morning. I felt so proud of what we had achieved. 

“I can still see Tunku at the podium crying out Merdeka!”  

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