Dr. Bhasker (Basker) Chhaganlal Vashee
Basker Vashee, who died aged 61, was an African, a socialist and an internationalist. He never wavered in his idealism and commitment to a world based on human solidarity. He was a modest, patient man endowed with immense charm and a contagious chuckle. His deepest desires were to see Robert Mugabe fall, to retire to Zimbabwe and to have a family. Regrettably, Basker did not live to see the former, although his ashes are interned in the country he described as “the only place I really love and want to be a part of”. The latter he satisfied through his dedication to the three children of his great love Gretta Nieuwenhuizen and the staff of TNI.
Basker was radicalised as a student, becoming General Secretary of the Rhodesian African Students’ Union at a time when Ian Smith, the then prime minister of what was a British colony, made his unilateral declaration of independence. He was soon picked up by Smith’s security police and kept in solitary confinement for a year before being deported to Britain on his release in 1966.
On arriving in London, he completed his BSc in Economics and went on to study an MSc at the London School of Economics (LSE). He had, meanwhile, become a card-carrying member of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), as well as playing a part in that university’s first ever militant sit-in.
Basker went on to read for a PhD in Economics at the University of Sussex, graduating in 1974. Meanwhile, he co-founded and served as executive editor of Counter-Information Services (CIS), which monitored multinational corporations’ operations in the Third World.
In 1976, he was appointed Executive Director of TNI. Under his leadership, TNI became the place in Europe for African liberation movements to meet. Basker had, since 1974, served the Zimbabwean national liberation movement in Britain and later Europe. He participated in the Lancaster House talks, which resulted in the first democratic elections in an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. He returned to Zimbabwe for three years in the hope of staying, but ZAPU had lost out to Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). Within a couple of years, Basker's elation gave way to disappointment as Zimbabwe became increasingly authoritarian. He returned to Europe and TNI.
His health deteriorated around this time. Basker had been diagnosed with a heart condition at the age of 34 and suffered his first heart attack in 1986, which saw him having to step down as TNI Executive Director. After a period of recovery, he went to the USA for three years, where he was a Visiting Professor at Hampshire and Smith Colleges in Massachusetts, and gave evidence to the US Senate and the United Nations on apartheid in South Africa.
He returned to Amsterdam in 1991, serving as TNI’s resident Fellow. He represented the Institute at numerous conferences and organised a number at TNI itself. In his last years, he regularly lectured on African political economy in The Netherlands and the UK. Basker served on the Board of Trustees of both TNI and the trade union-related Transnational Information Exchange, which he had helped found in 1978, as well as on the African Commission of the International Advisory Council of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He co-operated actively with the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NIZA) and was engaged both socially and politically with the African diaspora in The Netherlands.
The class of 67
Laurie Flynn, August 2007