One Young World Remembers Ahmed Kathrada

One Young World is deeply saddened to learn of the passing on of One Young World Counsellor and ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada (87) this morning, at the Donald Gordon Hospital in Johannesburg.

Kathrada had an illustrious political career having served between 1994 and 1999 as the parliamentary counsellor to late President Nelson Mandela.

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He was born on 21 August 1929 in rural Schweizer-Reneke and was introduced to politics as a young boy when he joined a non-racial youth club run by the Young Communist League.

At the tender age of 17, Kathrada participated in the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign led by the South African Indian Congress. He was part of 2000 resisters who were arrested and imprisoned for defying a law that discriminated against Indian South Africans.

In 1952, Kathrada was in a group of 20, including Nelson Mandela, who were sentenced to nine months in prison with hard labour - suspended for two years - for organising the Defiance Campaign against six unjust, apartheid laws. 

In 1954, Kathrada was placed under restrictions by apartheid security police and was arrested several times for breaking his banning orders. In 1956, he was among the 156 Congress activists and leaders charged for High Treason. The trial continued for four years after which all the accused were acquitted. Kathrada and Mandela were among the last 30 to be acquitted.

While they were on trial in 1960, the ANC and PAC were banned. In 1962, Kathrada was placed under “house arrest”. The following year Kathrada broke his banning orders and went underground to continue his political and military work in 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 banned persons had been meeting secretly. This led to the famous Rivonia Trial in which eight accused were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour on Robben Island. His fellow prisoners included ANC leaders Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni.

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Kathrada spent 26 years and 3 months in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. In 1982, Mandela, Sisulu, Kathrada, Mhlaba and Mlangeni were transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.

While in prison he obtained four university degrees, namely, BA (in History and Criminology), B Bibliography (in African Politics and Library Science), BA Honours (History) and BA Honours (African Politics).

Soon after his release on 15 October 1989, membership of the ANC was legalised. At its first legal conference in South Africa, Kathrada was elected onto its National Executive Committee. Until 1994, he headed the ANC’s Public Relations Department. At its Conference in 1997, Kathrada declined nomination to the National Executive Committee.

In 1994, Kathrada was elected to Parliament and served as President Mandela's Parliamentary Counsellor. He was chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council from 1997 until his term expired in 2006.

In 2008, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation was launched with the aim of deepening non-racialism. Kathrada was an active participant in the Foundation’s work, which includes promoting Constitutional ideals and human rights, youth leadership and development, challenging racism and preserving and promoting liberation history.

In 2013, One Young World was honoured to host Ahmed Kathrada as a Counsellor in Johannesburg. He hosted delegates in an historic breakout session at Liliesleaf Farm and joined Francois Pienaar in sharing his memories of Nelson Mandela, six short week’s before Madiba’s death. 

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One Young World Co-Founder Kate Robertson  

“We are so sad to hear of the tragic loss of beloved Uncle Kathy. We are humbled that he supported One Young World and privileged to have known him. His legacy of reconciliation, dignity and forgiveness is important for South Africa and for the world.”

Fellow One Young World Counsellor, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"Kathrada was a man of remarkable gentleness, modesty and steadfastness... a moral leader of the anti-apartheid movement. These were people of the highest integrity and moral fibre who, through their humility and humanity, inspired our collective self-worth – and the world’s confidence in us,”

Former Public Protector of South Africa and One Young World Counsellor Advocate Thuli Madonsela

“Struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada has died. This was a quintessential selfless leader. The life of struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada is a lesson om significance through selfless service to humanity. Our thoughts and prayers are with Barbara Hogan, life partner of Ahmed Kathrada, the rest of his family, friends and comrades as we bid him farewell.  

Chair of One Young World’s National Committee, South Africa, Catherine Peter

“I have had the great honour of spending time with Uncle Kathy and will forever cherish his guidance and generous, humble spirit. His legacy will live on, not least through the work of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation whose efforts in deepening non-racialism are desperately needed. We are so grateful that he generously shared his time during the One Young World Summit in Johannesburg in 2013, taking delegates on a personal tour of Liliesleaf Farm, and in the years since he has been a mentor and an inspiration.”

Kathrada’s activism spanned a total of 75 years.