Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (21 August 1929 – 28 March 2017), sometimes known by the nickname "Kathy", was a South African politician and anti-apartheid activist.

Ahmed Kathrada
Kathrada in 2016
Parliamentary Counsellor to the President of South Africa
In office
10 May 1994  16 June 1999
PresidentNelson Mandela
Member of the Parliament of South Africa
In office
Personal details
Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada

(1929-08-21)21 August 1929
Schweizer-Reneke, Transvaal Province, Union of South Africa
Died28 March 2017(2017-03-28) (aged 87)
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
Political partyAfrican National Congress
Other political
South African Communist Party
SpouseBarbara Hogan
Alma materUniversity of South Africa
  • Politician
  • anti-apartheid activist
  • writer

Kathrada's involvement in the anti-apartheid activities of the African National Congress (ANC) led him to his long-term imprisonment following the Rivonia Trial, in which he was held at Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison. Following his release in 1990, he was elected to serve as a member of parliament, representing the ANC. He authored a book, No Bread for Mandela – Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, Prisoner No. 468/64.

Early life

Ahmed Kathrada was born on 21 August 1929 in the small country town of Schweizer-Reneke in the Western Transvaal,[1] the fourth of six children in a Gujarati Bohra family of South African Indian immigrant parents from Surat, Gujarat.[2][3][4] Once in Johannesburg, he was influenced by leaders of the Transvaal Indian Congress such as Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, IC Meer, Moulvi and Yusuf Cachalia, and JN Singh.[1] Consequently, he became a political activist at the early age of 12 when he joined the Young Communist League of South Africa.[3] He took part in various activities such as handing out leaflets[4] and performing volunteer work in the individual passive resistance against the Pegging Act in 1941. During World War II, he was involved in the anti-war campaign of the Non-European United Front.[5]

Political activist

At the age of 17 he left school 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 restricted where Indians could live, trade and own land.[3][5]

Kathrada was one of the two thousand volunteers imprisoned as a result of the campaign; he spent a month in a Durban jail in South Africa.[1] This was his first jail sentence for civil disobedience. Later, he was elected as the chair of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress.[1][5]

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 3rd World Festival of Youth and Students in East Berlin in 1951.[6] He was elected as the leader of the large multi-racial South African delegation.[5] He remained in Europe in order to attend a congress of the International Union of Students in Warsaw,[5] and finally travelled to Budapest and worked at the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth for nine months.[7]

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 1960. Eventually, all of the accused were found not guilty.[4]

After the ANC (African National Congregation) 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. To be free to continue his activities, Kathrada went underground early in 1962.[4][5]

Rivonia trial

On 11 July 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 and to start a guerrilla war.[8]

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.[9]


Kathrada giving a tour of Robben Island, where he was imprisoned between 1964 and 1982, to the then US President Barack Obama's family in 2013.

For the following 18 years, Kathrada was confined to the Robben Island Maximum Security Prison off Cape Town along with most of his Rivonia Trial co-defendants.[3] In October 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison near Cape Town.[3]

While in jail on Robben Island and in pollsmoor, Kathrada completed a Bachelor's degrees in History/Criminology as well as three other degrees, thanks to his family who paid the tuition fee.[10]

On 15 October 1989 Kathrada, along with Jeff Masemola, Raymond Mhlaba, Billy Nair, Wilton Mkwayi, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Oscar Mpetha, and Walter Sisulu were released from Johannesburg prison.[11]

Activities after release

After the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990, Kathrada served on the interim leadership committees of both the ANC and the South African Communist Party. He resigned from the latter position when he was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee in July 1991. During the same year, he was appointed as head of ANC public relations as well as a fellow of the University of the Western Cape's Mayibuye Centre.[12]

Kathrada went on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1992.[12]

In the first all-inclusive democratic South African elections in 1994, Kathrada was elected as a member of parliament for the ANC. After refusing to accept a position in Mandela's cabinet as minister of correctional services stating that " I joined the struggle not for positions"[3] in September 1994 he was appointed as the political advisor to President Mandela in the newly created post of Parliamentary Counsellor.[3] In June 1999, Kathrada left parliamentary politics.

In 1994 and 1995, Kathrada was elected as chairperson of the Robben Island Council. He remained the chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council. On 27 October 2013, on the island, he launched the International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners.[13]

Kathrada was married to Barbara Hogan, a recent Minister of Public Enterprises.[14][15] In 2008 he founded the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation to continue his life's work.[16]

In 2017 Kathrada appeared along with remaining surviving co-defendants at the Rivonia Trial, Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg, along with lawyers Joel Joffe, George Bizos and Denis Kuny in a documentary film entitled “Life is Wonderful”, directed by Sir Nicholas Stadlen,[17] which tells the story of the trial. The title reflects Goldberg's words to his mother at the end of the trial on hearing that he and his comrades had been spared the death sentence.[18][19][20][21]


Kathrada died at a medical centre in Johannesburg from complications of a cerebral embolism on 28 March 2017, aged 87.[22] He was buried the next day in Johannesburg in accordance with Islamic rites at Westpark Cemetery where his funeral also took place there.[15] The BBC described the funeral as "simple" with "nothing lavish or grand" in sight, and there was a tent "filled with people" who paid their last tribute.[15] His funeral was attended by veterans of the struggle for freedom, ANC stalwarts, South African politicians, civil society and ordinary South Africans. Notable mourners were Former President Thabo Mbeki, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, last two remaining Rivonia trialists Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni, last two remaining Little Rivonia Trialists Laloo Chiba and Mac Maharaj, former South African lawyer of Rivonia trialists and little Rivonia Trialist George Bizos, Graca Machel, Winnie Mandela, Sophia De Bruyn, EFF leader Julius Malema, including the Gauteng Premier David Makhura who made welcoming and the Former President Kgalema Motlanthe who was keynote speaker for the funeral and the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan who was given a resounding applause by everyone due to his fight againt corruption led by president Zuma and the Gupta Famil.[15] President Jacob Zuma, Kathrada's opponent, did not attend the funeral in accordance with the family's wishes.[15]

Zuma ordered the South African flag to be flown at half-mast to mark Kathrada's death and postponed a cabinet meeting in order to allow cabinet members to attend the funeral.[15]

Honours and awards

In addition to receiving the Isitwalandwe Award (the ANC's highest possible accolade) whilst still in prison in 1988,[23] Kathrada has also been awarded four Honorary Doctorates, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst (2000), the University of Missouri, Michigan State University, and the University of Kentucky.[24]

Kathrada was voted 46th in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004.[25]

He was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in 2005.[26]

On 18 July 2011, he and his wife were the chief guests on Nelson Mandela International Day at the United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan, where he shared his views with children.[27]

See also



  1. Kathrada 2004, p. 373
  2. Burton, Antoinette (1 May 2012). "Review of Kathrada, A. M., No Bread for Mandela: Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, Prisoner No. 468/64". h-net.org. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  3. "Ahmed Kathrada, unflinching opponent of apartheid in South Africa, dies at 87". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  4. Dixon, Robyn (27 March 2017). "Ahmed Kathrada dies at 87; Nelson Mandela's trusted ally helped overturn apartheid in South Africa". Los Angeles Times. Johannesburg. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  5. "Ahmed Kathrada's Most Notable Moments". huffingtonpost.co.za. Archived from the original on 1 April 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  6. Kathrada 2004, p. 374
  7. "Strong Opinion, Sharp Wit, And Humour Mark The Life of Struggle Icon Ahmed Kathrada". huffingtonpost.co.za. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  8. Chan, Sewell (28 March 2017). "Ahmed Kathrada, Anti-Apartheid Activist in South Africa, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  9. "EIGHT CONVICTED IN SOUTH AFRICA". The New York Times. 12 June 1964. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  10. "Where Mandela Kept Hope, Guide Tells Their Shared Saga". The New York Times. 5 July 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  11. Mandela 1996, p. 174
  12. jonas (13 July 2011). "Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada Timeline: 1929 – 2017". sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  13. Ahmed Kathrada (31 October 2013). "Unconditional release of Marwan Barghouti is positive step forward". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  14. AfricaNews (30 March 2017). "South Africa's Zuma not welcome at funeral of anti-apartheid hero Kathrada". africanews.com. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  15. "Ahmed Kathrada funeral: South Africa's Zuma asked to stay away". BBC. 29 March 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  16. "Ahmed Kathrada – Nelson Mandela Foundation". www.nelsonmandela.org. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  17. Life is Wonderful Q&A on Vimeo
  18. Life is Wonderful trailer on YouTube
  19. Stadlen, Nick (Nicholas) (22 July 2018). "Unsung heroes: the men who stood trial with Mandela". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  20. Green, Pippa (13 June 2018). "Apartheid history: Overlooked Rivonia triallists feted in Life is Wonderful". Business Day. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  21. "'Life is Wonderful' screening reinforces call for such histories in curriculum". Nelson Mandela University. 15 June 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  22. "Struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada has died". eNews Channel Africa. ENCA. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  23. "Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada Timeline: 1929 - 2017". South African History Online. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  24. "Convocation of Ahmed Kathrada and Barbara Hogan". Archived from the original on 27 August 2011.
  25. "The 10 Greatest South Africans of all time". BizCommunity. 27 September 2004. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  26. Amit Baruah (5 January 2005). "Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Divas awards announced". The Hindu. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  27. "UNIC Celebrates Nelson Mandela International Day". United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan. 18 July 2011.

Works cited

  • Kathrada, Ahmed (6 August 2004). Marlene Burger (ed.). Ahmed Kathrada memoirs. Paarl, South Africa: Zebra press. ISBN 1-86872-918-4.
  • Mandela, Nelson (1996). The illustrated long walk to freedom. Paul Duncan (abridgement and picture editing). Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-88020-5.

Further reading

See also

  • Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.