The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation confirmed this that 87-year-old stalwart Ahmed Kathrada died ‘peacefully’ at the Donald Gordon Hospital in Johannesburg this morning.
Kathrada, whose life was dedicated to the emancipation of the majority of South African from Apartheid rule died after a brief illness.
Known affectionately as Uncle Kathy, he remained politically active right up until his last days. Most recently, he lambasted the ruling African National Congress, of which he was a lifelong member, for deviating from the core values of the party, the Freedom Charter and the Constitution, for which he and so many others suffered to get enshrined. He even called on President Jacob Zuma to step down.
Kathrada’s political investment saw him arrested a number of times from the 1950s. He was detained during the Defiance Campaign of 1952, as well as in 1953 and 1954 while opposing government enforced removals of families in Sophiatown.
After the ANC and various other anti-apartheid organisations were banned in 1960, Kathrada continued his political activities despite repeated detentions and increasingly severe house arrest measures against him. In order to be free to continue his activities, Kathrada went underground early in 1963.
On July 11, 1963, Kathrada was arrested at the South African internal headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘The Spear of the Nation’ – the military wing of the ANC) in Rivonia, near Johannesburg. Although Kathrada was not a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he became one of the accused in the famous Rivonia Trial, which started in October 1963. He was charged with sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government by violent means. The trial ended in June 1964; Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Billy Nair, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba and Denis Goldberg.
Of his time in prison, Kathrada wrote: “The real picture of prison life is a picture of great warmth, fellowship, friendship, humour and laughter; of strong convictions, of a generosity of spirit, of compassion, solidarity and care. It is a picture of continuous learning, of getting to know and live with your fellow beings, their strengths as well as their idiosyncrasies; but more important, where one comes to know oneself, one’s weaknesses, inadequacies and one’s potentials. Unbelievably, it is a very positive, confident, determined – yes, even a happy community.’
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which he founded, has vowed to work towards promoting ‘the values, rights and principles enshrined in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa’, all principles Ahmed lived and strove for.
Kathrada is survived by his life partner, Barbara Hogan, to whom, along with the rest of the Kathrada family, our hearts go out.