South African anti-apartheid leader Ahmed Kathrada dies aged 87

Kathrada spent 26 years and 3 months in prison 18 of which were on Robben Island

Kathrada spent 26 years and 3 months in prison 18 of which were on Robben Island

Friends and strangers alike called Kathrada by the nickname Kathy, which was bestowed on him by his eighth-grade teacher, who was Afrikaans, a member of the white minority descended from Dutch colonists.

"Being me, with my expertise in direction, I lost my way", Kathrada joked in an interview with NPR earlier this year. Despite having left the political arena, Kathrada has maintained a hectic schedule of local and global travel for the past few years in pursuit of the objectives of a non-racial society espoused by the Foundation that bears his name. He moved there when he was eight to attend school because there was no school for Indians in his hometown of Schweizer-Reneke.

"He had this ability to relate to me, a high school kid, nearly as an equal, wanting to know what my interests were, what I wanted to do and so on", Kathrada recalled of Mandela in an interview with South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper. I can never say. "My personal contact goes back to 1985 when I was detained in solitary and at Pollsmoor prison and he slipped passed my cell, said hello to be me and asked me to be strong on my way to the hospital and the next day he sent me a poem". "I would only have done so when I thought that some important organisational matters compel me to raise my concerns", Kathrada wrote.

Zuma, meanwhile, described Kathrada as a much-loved member of South Africa's long liberation struggle and ordered the national flag to be flown at half-mast at all government buildings.

He was acquitted in the 1956-61 mass treason trial but was placed under house arrest in 1962. On July 11, 1963, he was arrested with other ANC leaders. In 1960, while the trial was still going on, South Africa's apartheid government banned the ANC.


Kathrada was, along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, at the forefront of the struggle for liberation. He said they were "caught by surprise" when Kathrada fell ill. Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. He remained locked up until he was 60.

He was released from prison in 1989, just months before Mandela himself walked free.

After his release, Kathrada preached forgiveness.

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". "Born and bred in South Africa". And not a few thousand, but a few million.

When the ANC won control of South Africa in the first all-race elections in 1994 and dismantled apartheid, Kathrada served as President Mandela's parliamentary adviser.

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