Ahmed Mohamed “Kathy” Kathrada – South Africa

Forgiveness goes together with reconciliation. The one cannot be done without the other. Ahmed Kathrada, leader in the South African resistance and jail mate of Nelson Mandela.

Ahmed Mohamed “Kathy” Kathrada – South Africa

Ahmed Mohamed “Kathy” Kathrada was born on 21 August 1929, to Indian immigrant parents in Schweizer Reneke, a small town in the Western Transvaal (now Gauteng Province). While he was at Johannesburg Indian High School, he came under the influence of Dr Yusuf Dadoo and the Cachalia brothers, leaders of the freedom movement.

His political work began in 1941, at an early age of 12 when he joined the Young Communist League of South Africa and during World War II, he was involved in the anti-war campaign of the Non-European United 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 2000 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 a founding member of the Transvaal Indian Volunteer Corps and that of its successor, the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress.

While a student at the University of the Witwatersrand and as chairperson of the Transvaal Indian 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 this that he visited the concentration camps at Auschwitz, which impressed upon him the urgent need to eradicate racism in South Africa. He finally traveled to Budapest and worked at the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth for nine months. (Read the rest on sahistory.org.za).

He was at the University of South Africa (degrees completed while on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prisons. 1964-1989). His Qualifications: B.A. – History and Criminology, B. Bibliography – Library Science and African Politics, B.A. Honours – History, B.A. Honours – African Politics, In 1991 appointed fellow of Mayibuye Centre – University of Western Cape.

Ahmed M. Kathrada is a veteran of the South African liberation struggle, one of the famous Rivonia trialists and a long-serving political prisoner on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Maximum Prison. Kathrada was born to Indian immigrant parents on August 21, 1929, in Schweizer-Reneke in what was then Western Transvaal.

He became a political activist while still a teenager when he got involved in the activities of the Communist Party and the Transvaal Indian (Youth) Congress. In the 1950s, he participated in numerous campaigns of the Congress Alliance alongside African National Congress (ANC) leaders like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. He was one of 156 leaders and activists accused in the marathon Treason Trial (1956-1961). After the banning of the ANC and other organisations in 1960, he continued his political activities in spite of repeated detentions and increasingly more severe house arrest measures against him. He went underground in early 1963.

In July of that year, he was arrested at the internal headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the military wing of the ANC) in Rivonia. Although not a member of Umkhonto himself, in October 1963, he became one of the accused in the Rivonia Trail, charged with sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government by violent means. At the end of the trial in June 1964, Kathrada, together with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mlaba and Dennis Goldberg, was sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent the next 18 years with his colleagues in the isolation section of the Maximum Security Prison on Robben Island. In October 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor Maximum Prison in Cape Town to join Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni who had been moved there a few months before.

With the exception of Mandela, the Rivonia Trialists were finally released in October 1989. While in jail on Robben Island and Polsmoor, Kathrada completed BA degrees in Arts and Bibliography, as well as an Honors degree in History and African Politics. Following the Unbanning of the ANC in February 1990, Kathrada served on the ANC Interim Leadership Committee and Interim Leadership Group of the South African Communist Party. He gave up the latter position when he was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee at its conference in July 1991. In 1994, Kathrada was elected to the National Assembly for the ANC, and in September 1994, he was appointed political advisor to President Mandela in the newly created position of Parliamentary Counsellor. (Read the rest on anc.org.za).

In 1989, after 26 years, Ahmed Kathrada was released from Robben Island, the South African prison for anti-apartheid leaders. He was the gentle jailmate of Nelson Mandela. This episode of Humankind presents an audio memoir of a life lived in hope, agony, and persistence. Hear about brutalities endured, healing forged, and humanity prevailing against all odds. Kathrada’s story will provoke real questions, stark reflections, and a sense of admiration for a quiet hero.

When in 1989 Nelson Mandela was elected president, Ahmed served in his Cabinet.


globetrotter interview;


see his interview made with Nelson Mandela;

sa partners.org;

Humankind Program;

Uni of Toronto


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