From The Guardian yesterday:
The South African anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, one of Nelson Mandela’s closest colleagues in the struggle against white rule and a fellow Robben Island prisoner, has died aged 87. Kathrada, who was affectionately known by his nickname ‘Kathy,’ was among those jailed alongside Mandela after the Rivonia trial in 1964. The case drew worldwide attention and highlighted the brutal legal system under the apartheid regime. He died in hospital in Johannesburg following a short illness after brain surgery.
Kathrada spent 26 years and three months in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. After the end of apartheid, he served from 1994-99 as parliamentary counsellor to President Mandela in the first African National Congress (ANC) government. In recent years he was highly critical of President Jacob Zuma and the ANC government. Nevertheless, the ANC said South Africa had ‘lost a titan.’ ‘His life is a lesson in humility, tolerance, resilience and a steadfast commitment to principle,’ it said in a statement.
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What follows immediately below is from Kathrada’s Wikipedia entry, sans hyperlinks and notes, and lightly edited, including the addition of material (in brackets) from his biography at South African History Online. After that I’ve copied some introductory autobiographical passages from the Prologue to Kathrada’s A Simple Freedom: The Strong Mind of Robben Island—Prisoner No. 468/64 (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2016): 18-20.
“Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, sometimes known by the nickname ‘Kathy,’ was a South African politician, former political prisoner and anti-apartheid activist. 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. [….]
Kathrada was born in the small country town of Schweizer-Reneke in the Western Transvaal, the fourth of six children in a Gujarati Bohra family of South African Indian immigrant parents from Surat, Gujarat.
Due to the policies of the time, he could not be admitted to any of the ‘European’ or ‘African’ schools in the area and thus he had to move to Johannesburg to be educated. 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. Consequently, he became a political activist at the early age of 12 when he joined the Young Communist League of South Africa, [which found him, in his own words, ‘distributing leaflets and chalking freedom slogans on walls’]. He took part in various activities such as handing out leaflets 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. He obtained his matric at Johannesburg Indian High.
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 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 [‘passive resistance’] campaign [‘of the South African Indian Congress’]; 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 3rd World Festival of Youth and Students in East Berlin in 1951. 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 of Students in Warsaw, and finally travelled 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, Walter Sisulu, [‘J.B. Marks and other African leaders’]. [‘The signing of the Dadoo-Naicker-Xuma Pact in 1947 [had] strengthened the Alliance, which comprised the ANC and the SAIC. Kathrada 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, he helped organise the ‘Campaign of Defiance against Unjust laws,’ launched jointly by the ANC and the SAIC. The Defiance Campaign targeted six unjust Apartheid laws, amongst them 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 this, the ANC and the SAIC were to launch a joint campaign of Defiance.
In 1953, Kathrada was elected to the executive of the World Federation of Democratic Youth in absentia, a post he was unable to take up due to restrictions placed on him by the authorities. Kathrada was among a group of twenty officials who were charged with organising the Defiance Campaign jointly organised by the ANC and SAIC (South African Indian Congress). They were given a suspended sentence of nine months with hard labour, which was suspended for two years. In 1954, he was served with banning orders prohibiting him from attending any gatherings and from taking part in the activities of 39 organisations. These bans curtailed his overall participation in politics, but it did not deter him. He was arrested several times for breaking his ‘banning.’
Twenty Congress Alliance leaders of the Defiance Campaign (a series of mass actions involving more than 10,000 protesters) appear in the Johannesburg Magistrates Court on charges of contravening the Suppression of Communism Act, August 26, 1952. Ahmed Kathrada is in the upper row, second from the right.
In 1955, when Indian schools in Johannesburg were moved out of the city to the segregated location of Lenasia, some 22 miles away, he helped organise the Central Indian High School parents’ association. This served as a private school, established to combat the Group Areas Act, and he 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 Congress Alliance. Kathrada served on the Alliance’s General Purpose Committee.]
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.
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 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 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.
For the following 18 years, Kathrada was confined to the Robben Island Maximum Security Prison along with most of his Rivonia Trial ‘colleagues.’ In October 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor Maximum Prison near Cape Town to join others such as Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni who had been moved there a few months before.
While in jail on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor, Kathrada completed Bachelor’s degrees in History/Criminology and Bibliography as well as Honours degrees in History and African Politics through the University of South Africa. (The prison authorities refused to allow him or the other prisoners to pursue postgraduate studies.)
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. 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. Kathrada went on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1992.
In the first all-inclusive democratic South African elections in 1994, Kathrada was elected as a member of parliament for the ANC; in September 1994 he was appointed as the political advisor to President Mandela in the newly created post of Parliamentary Counsellor. 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 Barghouthi and All Palestinian Prisoners.
In addition to receiving the Isitwalandwe Award (the ANC’s highest possible accolade) whilst still in prison, Kathrada has also been awarded four Honorary Doctorates, including the University of Missouri, Michigan State University, and the University of Kentucky.
Kathrada’s life partner was Barbara Hogan, a recent Minister of Public Enterprises. Kathrada died at a medical center in Johannesburg from complications of a cerebral embolism on 28 March 2017, aged 87.”
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Ahmed Kathrada, in his own words:
“I survived three circles of hell—the ninety-day detention, a trial for treason and sabotage, and years and years of imprisonment. Each demanded its own accommodation: the first required inner strength for naked survival; the second, principle over legality and expediency; the last, discipline and endurance.
The ninety-day detention law, sanctioned by the General Law Amendment Act of 1963, was one of the cruelest of the apartheid laws. It allowed solitary confinement for all but one hour per day for ninety days (late one hundred and eighty, then indefinitely), giving the security police almost unlimited power. Many detainees were tortured or killed, or simply disappeared.
I was arrested along with ANC (African National Congress) leaders Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba almost immediately after the Act’s promulgation. (Mandela is already on Robben Island, serving a five-year sentence.) We are strictly forbidden from talking to one another. When the metal grille slams shut I am alone, like I’ve never been in all my life.
The cell is small, there are two thin soiled mats on the floor to sleep on, a bucket for ablutions, a metal plate and spoon, a window too high to see out of and a single naked light bulb, like a demented Cyclops, staring impassively and relentlessly at me day and night. In the evening I am given a plastic bottle of water. This is life stripped to its barest.
In the morning we are allowed to shower and exercise in the so-called ‘church hall’ with our comrades, walking around in single file, bound to silence. There are no women … no children … no gardens … it is nature strangled; a monastic life which has not been chosen.
After a few days, pacing my cell like a worn tiger in a squalid cage, I long for someone to talk to. The only company I get (erratically over the weeks) are my interrogators, one friendly and affable, the other, the dreaded Swanepoel, small-eyed, mean, brutal, calculating, but with his anger and hatred always threatening to boil over.
They want information. They offer salvation. At a price.
I am told in no uncertain terms, ‘We’ve got you at last, and now you’ve nowhere else to go. You are going to hang!’
I am Ahmed Kathrada. The Kathradas come from northwestern India and are Gujerati-speaking, as was my mother’s family. But I am a second-generation South African, born and bred in a country which has an extraordinary and turbulent history. I have looked into some of the darker corners of its soul. I have seen the dark side of the land and I have seen the brighter side.
I spent twenty-six continuous years of my life in prison (one in detention in Pretoria, eighteen on Robben Island, seven in Pollsmoor). Afterwards, in the first fully democratic election in South Africa, I was elected as a Member of Parliament and was appointed Parliamentary Counsellor in the office of President Mandela.
I live both in Johannesburg (where I am on the board of the Nelson Mandela Foundation) and, rather more, in Cape Town with my partner Barbara, herself an MP who spent nine years as a political prisoner.
I am often courted by the media and frequently accompany individuals or parties of people to the island. I am free to make these choices and say what I like where once I was not.
When I started out in life it was a very different world and it should never be forgotten how hard these freedoms were come by (and how they should be cherished).” [….]
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