Ahmed Kathrada may not have gained the international prominence of SA’s former President, the late Nelson Mandela, but he was a celebrated South African anti-apartheid activist in his own right.
In fact, Ahmed Kathrada was considered to be one of Nelson Mandela’s closest colleagues in the anti-apartheid struggle. The former Robben Island prisoner died early on Tuesday at the age of eighty-seven in a hospital in Johannesburg after a short illness following brain surgery.
In the famous Rivonia trial in 1964, Kathrada was one of the people tried and jailed alongside Mandela. He would go on to spend 26 years and three months in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island.
His journey to famed anti-apartheid activist, however, started at the age of 17, when he was one of 2,000 “passive resisters” arrested in 1946 for defying laws that discriminated against Indian South Africans.
In 1960, ANC which he was a part of was banned and two years later Kathrada was placed under “house arrest”. From there he went underground to continue the struggle as a member of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).
In July 1963, the police swooped on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb where Kathrada and other senior activists had been meeting in secret. The famous Rivonia trial came next and eight of the accused, including Kathrada and Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour on Robben Island.
Post-apartheid, Ahmed Kathrada, served from 1994 to 1999 as parliamentary counsellor to President Mandela in the first African National Congress (ANC) government.
Neeshan Balton, head of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said in a statement;
“This is great loss to the ANC, the broader liberation movement and South Africa as a whole,”
“‘Kathy’ was an inspiration to millions in different parts of the world.”
Other prominent figures in SA also eulogized the great man. Derek Hanekom, a fellow veteran activist and now a government minister, said he had lost a “revolutionary mentor and dear friend”.
His charity foundation said that he would be buried according to Muslim religious rights.