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RIP Ahmed Kathrada

Date: Mar 28, 2017

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (21 August 1929 – 28 March 2017)

On the morning of 28 March, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation released a statement confirming the death of struggle stalwart, Ahmed Kathrada. The 87-year-old died at the Donald Gordon Hospital in Johannesburg.

On 27 March 2017 the Foundation released a statement saying that  anti-apartheid struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada's condition had deteriorated in the last 24 hours.

In early March 2017, Kathrada, 87, underwent surgery at a Johannesburg hospital to remove a clot on his brain. Since then, he experienced several post-operation complications.

"Kathrada has contracted pneumonia, which has affected both his lungs," Ahmed Kathrada Foundation director Neeshan Balton said.

"Despite appropriate medical care, his condition is deteriorating. He is currently comfortable."

Kathrada is one of three Rivonia treason triallists still living, the other two being Andrew Mlangeni and Dennis Goldberg.

Along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and Elias Motsoaledi, they were sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

Kathrada spent 26 years in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island.

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Overview

Ahmed Kathrada, or Kathy as he is sometimes called, is a politician, an ANC struggle icon and is known for being one of the the famous Rivonia Trialists. He was arrested alongside Mandela, whom he met at age 17 at a protest march restricting Indian rights to land purchase.

Background

Ahmed "Kathy" Kathrada was born on August 21, 1929, in Schweizer-Reneke, a small rural town in the North West Province. He was educated in Johannesburg because the apartheid system was designed in such a way that he could not be admitted to nearby schools as they were for Europeans and African. As an Indian, he had to be admitted to an Indian school. He obtained his matric at Johannesburg Indian High. It was while he was schooling in Johannesburg that he came under the influence of Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Yusuf Cachalia, I.C. Meer and J.N. Singh, leaders of the Transvaal Indian Congress. Kathrada became an activist as a result. However, his activism began at the age of 12 when he joined the Young Communist League of South Africa. Then he participated in various activities such as handing out pamphlets and did voluntary work in the individual passive resistance against the Pegging Act in 1941. He was involved in the anti-war campaign of the Non-European Front during World War I (1939 - 1945).

He left school at the age of 17, in 1946, to work full-time for the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council in order to work against the "Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act", commonly referred to as the "Ghetto Act", which sought to give Indians limited political representation and defined the areas where Indians could live, trade and own land. Kathrada was one of the two thousand volunteers imprisoned as a result of the campaign - he spent a month in a Durban jail. This was his first jail sentence for civil disobedience. Reportedly, he gave an incorrect age to the police so that he would not be treated as a juvenile, but sent to an adult prison instead. Later, he was elected as secretary-general of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress.
While Kathrada was a student at the University of the Witwatersrand, he was sent as a delegate of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress to the World Youth Festival of 1951 in Berlin. He was elected as the leader of the large multi-racial South African delegation. He remained in Europe in order to attend a congress of the International Union Students in Warsaw, Poland and finally traveled to Budapest and worked at the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth for nine months.

As result of the growing co-operation between the African and Indian Congresses in the 1950s, Kathrada came into close contact with African National Congress leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. He was one of 156 accused in the four year Treason Trial, which lasted from 1956 to 1961. Eventually, all of the accused were found not guilty. 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 in early 1963.

His political work began in 1941, at an early age of 12 when he joined the Young Communist Party of South Africa and during World War II, he was involved in the anti-war campaign of the Non-European Front.

At the age of 17 he left school to work full-time in the offices of the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council. At the time, in 1946, the South African Indian Congress had launched the Passive Resistance Movement against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act, commonly referred to as the "Ghetto Act". The Act sought to give Indians limited political representation and defined the areas where Indians could live, trade and own land. The act was vehemently opposed. Kathrada was one of the 2 000 volunteers imprisoned in that campaign and served a month in a Durban jail along with other ardent resisters such as Monty Naicker, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Dr Goonam, George Singh, Mrs Gool, M D Naidoo and others. This was his first jail sentence for civil disobedience.

Kathrada was founding member of the Transvaal Indian Volunteer Corps and that of its successor, the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress. He was soon elected its President.

While a student at the University of the Witwatersrand and as chairman of the Transvaal India Youth congress, Kathrada attended the World Youth Festival in Berlin, 1951. He was elected leader of the large multi-racial South African delegation. He remained overseas to attend a Congress of the International Union Students in Warsaw, Poland and it was during that he visited the concentration camps at Auschwitz, which impressed upon him the urgent need to eradicate racism in South Africa. He finally travelled to Budapest and worked at the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth for nine months.

As the alliance between the African and Indian Congresses developed, Kathrada came into close contact with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, J B Marks and other African leaders. The signing of the Dadoo-Naicker-Xuma Pact in 1947 strengthened the Alliance, which comprised of the African National Congress, the South African Coloured People's Organisation and the South African Congress of Democrats. Kathy worked tirelessly to promote joint action as a leader of the Youth Action Committee co-ordinating the youth wings of the African, Indian and other Congresses.

In 1952, Kathy helped organise the 'Campaign of Defiance against Unjust laws', launched jointly by the African national Congress and the South African Indian Congress. The Defiance campaign targeted six unjust apartheid laws, amongst them being the Pass Laws, stock limitation regulations, the Group Areas Act, the separate representation of Voters Act, the Suppression of Communism Act and the Bantu Authorities Act. The Government was called upon to repeal these laws by 29 February 1952, failing which the African national Congress and the South African Indian Congress were to launch a joint campaign of Defiance.

Kathrada was one of the nine thousand people of different races, who defied the new apartheid legislation and subsequently courted imprisonment. He was among a group of twenty officials who were charged with violating the Suppression of Communism Act and organising the Defiance Campaign. He was given a suspended sentence of nine months. In 1954 he was served with banning orders prohibiting him from attending any gatherings. These bans curtailed his overall participation in politics, but it did not deter him.

In 1955 when Indian schools in Johannesburg were moved out of the city to a segregated location of Lenasia, some 22 miles away, he helped organise the Indian parents' Association, and was duly elected as secretary. In the same year, he helped organise the multi-racial 'Congress of the People', which proclaimed the 'Freedom Charter', a policy document of the Alliance. Kathrada served on the Alliance's General Purpose Committee.

Kathrada was arrested for treason in December 1956 in a nationwide swoop. 156 leaders of the freedom movement were arrested. The trial lasted from 1957 until March 1961 but Kathrada nevertheless continued his political activities. Eventually all 156 leaders were found not guilty. Kathrada was restricted to the Johannesburg area in 1957 and following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 he was detained for five months during the State of Emergency. In 1961 Kathrada was arrested for serving on a strike committee that opposed Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd's plan to declare South Africa a Republic.

In December 1962, Kathy was subjected to 'house arrest' for 12 hours a day. He went underground and continued attending secret meetings at Rivonia, the underground headquarters of the African National Congress. It was there that he was arrested with other leaders of the underground movement in July 1963. It was his 18th arrest on political grounds. He was tried with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg and other leaders and was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 1964. They were charged with organising and directing Umkhonto we Sizwe ('Spear of the Nation'), the military wing of the African National Congress. Kathy was found guilty of committing specific acts of sabotage. At the age of 34, in 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island and was later moved to Pollsmoor prison. He was released on 15 October 1989, at the age of 60. On his release, he was given a heroes welcome in Soweto where he addressed a crowd of 5 000 people. Kathrada remarked, "I never dreamed I would be accorded such status."

Sechaba, the organ of the African National Congress, described Kathy as 'brave as a lion' and 'absolutely fearless'. Walter Sisulu wrote; "Kathy was a tower of strength and a source of inspiration to many prisoners, both young and old." He pursued his academic studies while in prison and today Kathy holds two bachelors degrees, an honours in African politics and an honours degree in history. The highest possible award, the Isitwalandwe Award was bestowed upon him while he was in prison.

Kathrada became Acting head of the ANC's Department of Information and Publicity, head of Public Relations and elected to the National Executive Committee of the ANC in 1991. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1994, during South Africa's first democratic elections. He also served as a Parliamentary Counsellor in the office of the president and thereafter he took leave of parliamentary politics in June 1999.

In his later life he kept busy through the work of his foundation - the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and he regularly travels abroad for related causes on non-racialism and the promotion of human rights. Mostly he is the chief storyteller of the Rivonia trialists, as one of three remaining survivors. He serves as the Chairman of the Robben Island Museum Council and that of the Ex-Political Prisoner's Committee. He takes people on guided tours to Robben Island and is trying to get a house there where he can take time out and also entertain visitors.

Personal life

After spending 26 years in prison, Kathrada never had kids, but he married former Minister of Public Enterprises Barbara Hogan.

Hogan was the first woman in South Africa to be found guilty of high treason and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In an interview with the Daily Maverick Kathrada said he met Hogan soon after she was released in 1990. “We struck a relationship and it is still there.”

Kathrada said their common experiences of prison are a binding factor.

Every morning the couple drive from their flat and take a walk along the promenade in Sea Point, Cape Town.  When they are in Johannesburg, they walk around Zoo Lake and they spend the December holidays at a place Barbara has in Simonstown.

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