Ahmed Kathrada 1929-2017: Life served in liberation of SA

29 March 2017 - 10:28 By Juliette Saunders
HARD TIME: Ahmed Kathrada visits the old lime quarry on Robben Island with former president Nelson Mandela in 1995
HARD TIME: Ahmed Kathrada visits the old lime quarry on Robben Island with former president Nelson Mandela in 1995

Struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada's life was celebrated yesterday as South Africa learnt of his passing after he had been admitted to hospital for surgery.

"Uncle Kathy", 87, leaves behind his wife, Barbara Hogan, 65, an ANC activist who was jailed for treason. They met on his release from prison and she later served as an MP and cabinet minister in the post-apartheid era.

Despite their life-long political commitment, the couple enjoyed an ordinary, happy personal life after liberation. Hogan shared snippets about her husband on his 85th birthday at the showing of a documentary by filmmaker Anant Singh.

  • 'Kathrada’s death pains me the same way as Madiba’s passing': Winnie MandelaWinnie Madikizela-Mandela on Tuesday said the passing of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada pained her in the same way the death of her ex-husband Nelson Mandela did.

Guests learnt that at 7pm no one dared to interrupt Kathrada as the soapie Isidingo was on air - and that he liked to have dessert before the main course because "life is too short".

The Rivonia trialist, antiracism activist and author, whose full name was Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, was born on August 21 1929 in Schweizer-Reneke.

"Kathy" was 12 when he joined a club affiliated to the Young Communist League and 17 when he was first arrested, for participating in the passive resistance campaign of the SA Indian Congress.

AS ONE: ANC leaders Raymond Mhlaba, Oscar Mpetha, Andrew Mlangeni, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi, and Wilton Mkwayi after their release. Picture: PATRICK DURAND/SYGMA via GETTY IMAGES

He met ANC leaders Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela in the 1940s and with them, a decade later, received a suspended sentence for organising a defiance campaign against apartheid laws and later stood trial for high treason. The men were acquitted but Kathrada was restricted to house arrest until he went "underground".

  • Emotional Winnie‚ Zenani pay tribute to Kathrada‚ ‘my other father’A distraught Zenani Mandela-Dlamini on Tuesday took to the podium at the Nelson Mandela Foundation to pay tribute to the late struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada‚ who died earlier this morning.

In July 1963 police swooped on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, where "banned persons" had been meeting. This led to the famous Rivonia Trial, in which Mandela, Sisulu, Kathrada and five others were jailed the following year.

HOMECOMING: Veteran ANC leader Ahmed Kathrada, right, is embraced as he arrives home in Lenasia following his release from Robben Island in 1989. Picture: WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP

In a tribute to Mandela after his death in 2013, Kathrada disclosed the nature of his relationship with the two famous ANC leaders. Referring to Sisulu, he wrote: "To me, over the years, he had become the father I had lost in 1944. I could, and did, turn to him for the most personal advice. Now I have lost you, my older brother, comrade and leader."

  • Foundation says Kathrada rejected life supportStruggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada had expressed that he did not want to be placed on life support‚ his foundation revealed on Tuesday.

Kathrada's death means only two of the eight Rivonia Trialists are still alive - Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg.

Kathrada spent 26 years and three months in prison: 18 years were on Robben Island. While in prison he obtained a BA (in history and criminology), B Bibliography (in African politics and library science), BA honours (history) and BA honours (African politics).

He was released on October 15 1989.

KEYS TO THE MOTHER CITY: Ahmed Kathrada, centre, with his wife Barbara Hogan, left, receives the freedom of the city from Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, right, during a ceremony at the City Hall. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

At the ANC's first legal conference in South Africa, Kathrada was elected onto its NEC and he headed its public relations department until 1994. That year he was elected to parliament and served as Mandela's parliamentary counsellor.

He was also chairman of the Robben Island Museum Council until 2006 and shared memories of his incarceration with politicians Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Margaret Thatcher, as well as Hollywood actors Samuel L Jackson, Charlize Theron and Morgan Freeman.

  • One of the most astonishing facts about Ahmed Kathrada’s lifeAhmed Kathrada only became a member of the ANC in 1990 – after spending decades in jail and fighting apartheid.

In 2008 he started his foundation.

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation director Neeshan Balton told the 85th birthday party that Kathrada was attending 250 public engagements a year.

Awards bestowed on Kathrada included the Isitwalandwe, the highest award bestowed by the ANC, and the Presidential Order for Meritorious Service; Class 1: Gold. He was made a Freeman of the City of Johannesburg.

CARVING OUT THE PAST: Former US president Barack Obama and his family get a history lesson from ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada during a visit to Robben Island's lime rock quarry labour camp in 2013. Picture: JASON REED/REUTERS

His published books are Letters from Robben Island (1999), Memoirs (2004) and A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada's Notebook from Robben Island (2005).

He collaborated with academic Tim Couzens on the 2008 book A Simple Freedom: The Strong Mind of Robben Island Prisoner No468/64.

  • How the youth remember Uncle KathyAs South Africa woke up to the news of the passing of Ahmed Kathrada‚ the youth turned to social media to share how they remembered the struggle icon.

In the introduction, Mandela wrote: "Kathy was always analysing and trying to understand, even while he was an active participant" and praised Kathrada for being "an important depository for organisational memory".

Most recently, Kathrada's foundation has spearheaded a campaign against racism with more than 60 other organisations from various regions across South Africa.

REGISTER OF RESISTANCE: The 1960s Rivonia treason trialists. Top, left to right: Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba. Bottom: Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg. File photo: RADU SIGHETI/REUTERS

Kathrada once said : "Hatred, revenge, bitterness - these are negative emotions. The person harbouring those emotions suffers more."

In a similar vein, he advised South Africans in a newspaper comment piece last year that, while he endorsed a heightened assertiveness in tackling racism, "I am not for once saying that racists cannot be humanised. Through education and learning, even the worst racists can unlearn their prejudices."

He urged individuals, organisations and communities to "stamp their dignity" when trying to counter racism, as the veterans had when fighting apartheid, recounting an incident when he and some friends used a "Europeans only" lift.

"A white woman, who also wanted to use the lift, told us to read the sign. We responded by saying, 'We do not mind sharing a lift with Europeans' and that she was welcome to join us.She chose not to take the lift. But we asserted our dignity and made our point."