August 12 (2017) Saturday

On this day in 1883, the last quagga in the world died in a zoo in Amsterdam.

It was the subspecies of zebra that lived in South Africa until the 19th century. It was long thought to be a distinct species, but genetic studies have shown it to be the southernmost subspecies of plains zebra. It is considered particularly close to Burchell's zebra. Its name is derived from its call, which sounds like "kwa-ha-ha". It was distinguished from other zebras by its limited pattern of primarily brown and white stripes, mainly on the front part of the body. The rear was brown and without stripes, and therefore more horse-like. They were once found in great numbers in the Karoo of Cape Province and the southern part of the Orange Free State in South Africa. After the Dutch settlement of South Africa began, the quagga was heavily hunted as it competed with domesticated animals for forage. While some individuals were taken to zoos in Europe, breeding programmes were unsuccessful. The last wild population lived in the Orange Free State, and the quagga was extinct in the wild by 1878.


  • In 1851, American inventor, actor, and entrepreneur Isaac Singer patented the sewing machine. Many had patented sewing machines before Singer, but his success was based on the practicality of his machine, the ease with which it could be adapted to home use, and its availability on an installment payment basis. The company manufactured 2 564 machines in 1856, and 13 000 in 1860 at a New York plant.
  • In 1480 at the Battle of Otranto, Ottoman troops beheaded 800 Christians for refusing to convert to Islam.
  • In 1908, Henry Ford's company built the first Model T car. The Model T is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to the common middle-class American. It was named the most influential car of the 20th century in the 1999 Car of the Century competition, ahead of the BMC Mini, Citroën DS, and Volkswagen Type 1. With 16.5 million sold it stands eighth on the top ten list of most sold cars of all time as of 2012.
  • In 1981, four rockets were fired at Voortrekkerhoogte, the massive apartheid-era military base on the outskirts of Pretoria. The banned African National Congress (ANC) accepted responsibility for this and many other terror attacks at the time. The attack had a major psychological effect on the government at the time and led to a retaliatory attack on the ANC's offices in London shortly afterwards.
  • In 1990, Dr Allan Boesak resigned from the ministry over his fraud scandal. Following a lengthy investigation and trial, the Dutch Reformed Church cleric and politician and anti-apartheid activist was imprisoned in 1999. However, he was subsequently granted an official pardon and reinstated as a cleric in late 2004. Along with Beyers Naude and Winnie Mandela, Boesak won the 1985 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award given annually by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to an individual or group whose courageous activism is at the heart of the human rights movement and in the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy's vision and legacy.

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Fatima Meer

Anti-Apartheid activist, academic and screenwriter Fatima Mere was born in Durban on this day in 1928.

She was born into a middle-class family of nine, where her father Moosa Ismail Meer, a newspaper editor of The Indian Views, instilled in her a consciousness of the racial discrimination that existed in the country. She completed her schooling at the Durban Indian Girls High School and subsequently attended the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Natal. In 1946, Meer joined many other South African Indians in a passive resistance campaign against apartheid, during which she started the Student Passive Resistance Committee. She also helped to establish the Durban District Women's League, an organisation started in order to build alliances between Africans and Indians as a result of the race riots between the two groups in 1949. After the National Party gained power in 1948, Meer’s activism increased. She was one of the founding members of the Federation of South African Women, which spearheaded the historical women's march on the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956. As a result of her activism, Meer was first "banned" in 1952. In the 1960s, she organised night vigils to protest against the mass detention of anti-apartheid activists without trial. During the 1970s she was again banned and later detained without trial for trying to organize a political rally with Black Consciousness Movement figure Steve Biko. She narrowly survived an assassination attempt shortly after her release from detention in 1976 when she was shot at her family home in Durban, but not harmed. Meer was on the staff of the University of Natal from 1956 to 1988 and was also a visiting professor at a number of universities in South Africa, the U.S., India, Mauritius, the Caribbean and Britain. Meer died on 12 March 2010 after suffering a stroke.