Kanta Patel: Rights campaigner

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The Independent Online

Kanta Patel was a local politician and campaigner who devoted her life to the struggle for equal rights and social justice.

Born in Tanzania in 1947 to affluent parents who ran a booming grocery business and owned a number of hotels, she moved in 1968 to London, where she studied food chemistry and worked briefly in a food industry research unit before joining the family business.

She was prompted to run for Greenwich Council in 1986 by a keen sense of the injustices and inequalities blighting the country she had grown to love. Throughout her two decades of service she held a number of senior positions, the most recent being Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, a role which highlighted her devotion to raising aspirations and opportunities for the most disadvantaged communities.

Her achievements as chair of the Race Equality Committee of the Association of London Authorities between 1990 and 1992 and her determined work for the cause of the Black Sections, and the establishment of their successor, the Black Socialist Society, within the Labour Party left a lasting legacy.

I had admired her commitment from afar; and from the moment our paths crossed, at a Local Government Information Unit Conference in Liverpool in 1990, we became very dear friends. We would have conversations about politics and culture, from the state of the world to Bollywood films. The breadth of her knowledge and the depth of her passion always astounded me.

Kanta Patel's enthusiasm and zeal helped to change the political climate of the late 1980s and pave the way for candidates from ethnic minorities, such as myself. She was never fazed when she became a target for threats and intimidation from the far right.

She had all the positive characteristics associated with politicians – an idealistic view of the world and a belief that individuals have the power to make a difference – and none of the negative ones. Her devotion to her cause was absolute.

Ashok Kumar

Kanta Patel, local politician and campaigner: born Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 2 June 1947; member, Greenwich Council 1986-2008; died London 8 July 2008.