Who is Ahmed Kathrada?

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A Statement from Nkosi ZMD Mandela MP

Mvezo Komkhulu – It is with great sadness and sense of loss that we bid farewell to a gentle, humble and yet outspoken leader of our nation. His contribution to our struggle for liberation, South Africa’s journey to democracy and the global struggle for human rights is boldly painted on the canvass of his life.

Today, as our country and indeed human rights activists from all over the world pay tribute to this giant of our movement, the questions raised recently by some in the ANC Caucus – “Who is Ahmed Kathrada? Who does he think he is?” – are being most fittingly answered.

· Politically active at 10 years old
· Left school at 17 years old and became a full-time worker in the offices of the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council
· Jailed for the first time at age 17 for his role along with 2000 other volunteers in the passive resistance campaign of 1946
· Defied Mandela at age 21 on the issue of 1 May 1950 Strike (which the latter did not support) and even challenged him to public debate on the matter
· At 22, he represented Transvaal Indian Youth Congress in conferences and programmes in Germany, Poland and Hungary
· At 23, he helped organise the Defiance Campaign and ended up being charged and sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for two years
· At 25 years of age he was served with his first banning order which prohibited him from attending any gathering or taking part in the activities of several anti-apartheid organisations
· He was arrested several times for breaking his banning Order
· At age 26, he was one of the organisers of the Congress of the People in Kliptown, when the Freedom Charter was adopted
· At 27, he was charged with high treason alongwith 156 other Congress activists – but was eventually acquitted
· At 31 he was arrested for his role in a committee that opposed the declaration of South Africa as a Republic
· At 33 he went underground after he was subjected to house arrest for 13 hours a day, as well as over weekends and public holidays
· Arrested at age 34 at the ANC underground headquarters at Liliesleaf Farm, along with several other ANC leaders, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial for
· their involvement in the activities of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC
· He was the youngest of the Rivonia Trialists, alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg and Elias Motsoaledi
· He was imprisoned in the isolation section of Robben Island where he spent the next 18 years as prisoner number 468/64.
· At the age of 60 years he was eventually released on 15 October 1989 from Pollsmoor Prison, have served 26 years in total
· Having left school at age 17, while in prison he obtained a BA (history and criminology), a B Bibliography (Library Science and African Politics), and two BA Honours degrees in African politics and history from Unisa
· He has received four honorary doctorates, from the University of Massachusetts in May 2000, the University of Durban-Westville in 2002, the University of Missouri in January 2004, and Michigan State University in December 2005
· He was elected to the national executive committee of the ANC at its first legal conference in South Africa in July 1991 and also served on the interim leadership of the South African Communist Party
· Kathrada became head of the ANC’s department of information and publicity and head of public relations until 1994
· He went on the holy pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) in 1992
· He became an MP after South Africa’s democratic elections in 1994, serving as a Cabinet Minister under Mandela for two days in 1994
· He served as chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council until 2006
· The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is dedicated to promoting non-racialism and fighting inequality

Ahmed Kathrada had a humble start to a life of toil and deprivation, which he would speak about passionately to the end of his life. His formative experiences kept the struggle of the masses of our people real for him, as he set out in pursuit of human rights, fundamental dignity and a better life for all.

He became one of the foremost global voices for human rights and the fight against inequality, and was especially passionate about the Palestinian cause.

Addressing a conference in Palestine in 2013 he said: “I was in prison for 26 years; I know detention without trial; I know solitary confinement, I know house-arrest, I know what it feels like to be wrenched away from my mother and father at the tender age of eight to go 200 kilometers to school because the local white school would not admit me simply because I was an Indian…

“I am not able to erase from my mind the trauma of silently and in piercing pain staring at the bare plot of land where the house once stood where I was born. It had been razed to the ground because it stood in an area that had been declared for occupation by Whites only. My visit to the Auswitch concentrationcamp, five years after World War 2, brought home to me the full extent of the horrors that can come from Apartheid type thinking. There I saw the remains of Jews, communists, gypsies and gays who were killed there. And the pain came forcefully back to me here in Palestine.”

Ahmed Kathrada became a voice of his generation when he made his call for the President to step down. In doing so he was merely giving expression to a deeply rooted culture of his generation in the ANC to openly criticise and take issue with each other in a forthright, respectful and dignified manner.

That he was prepared to face the wrath and criticism of all who disagreed with his position speaks volumes for the character of the man. He will undoubtedly be welcomed home by his former comrades Walter Sisulu, Tatomkhulu Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, OR Tambo, Ismail Meer, JN Singh, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Helen Joseph, Amina Cachalia and others with the words: “Well done Kathy you have done us proud; our voices have been heard!!!”

At age 87 this proud son of the little town of Schweizer-Reneke (in North West Province) has run his final mile. Humble, gentle and an extraordinary human-being, Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada will be remembered and celebrated by generations to come as one of our finest stalwarts.

Our deepest condolence to his family, loved ones and comrades. We wish them strength in this difficult time as we come to terms with our loss and celebrate a life well-lived, a struggle well-fought and freedom well-deserved.

To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return.

Nkosi Zwelivelile
Royal House of Mandela
Mvezo Komkhulu