Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (21 August 1929 – 28 March 2017), sometimes known by the nickname "Kathy", was a South African politician, 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. He authored a book, No Bread for Mandela – Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, Prisoner No. 468/64.

Ahmed Kathrada
Kathrada coons crop
Kathrada in 2016
Member of Parliament of South Africa
In office
Personal details
Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada

21 August 1929
Schweizer-Reneke, Transvaal Province, Union of South Africa
Died28 March 2017 (aged 87)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Political partyAfrican National Congress
South African Communist Party
Spouse(s)Barbara Hogan
Alma materUniversity of South Africa

Early life

Ahmed Kathrada was born in the small country town of Schweizer-Reneke in the Western Transvaal,[2] the fourth of six children in a Gujarati Bohra family of South African Indian immigrant parents from Surat, Gujarat.[3]

Owing to his Indian origin and 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, 200 miles to the east, to be educated, where his best friend's name was Fali.[4][5] 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.[2] Consequently, he became a political activist at the early age of 12 when he joined the Young Communist League of South Africa.[4] He took part in various activities such as handing out leaflets[5] 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.[6]

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.[4][6]

Kathrada was one of the two thousand volunteers imprisoned as a result of the campaign; he spent a month in a Durban jail.[2] This was his first jail sentence for civil disobedience. Later, he was elected as the chair of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress.[2][6]

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.[7] He was elected as the leader of the large multi-racial South African delegation.[6] He remained in Europe in order to attend a congress of the International Union of Students in Warsaw,[6] and finally travelled to Budapest and worked at the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth for nine months.[8]

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.[5]

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. To be free to continue his activities, Kathrada went underground early in 1962.[5][6]

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.[9]

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.[10]


Kathrada Obama Robben island
Kathrada giving a tour of the 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.[4] In October 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison near Cape Town.[4]

While in jail on Robben Island and in pollsmoor, Kathrada completed Bachelor's degrees in History/Criminology as well as three other degrees, thanks to his family who paid the tuition fee.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

Kathrada went on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1992.[13]

In the first all-inclusive democratic South African elections in 1994, Kathrada was elected as a member of parliament for the ANC.[4] in September 1994 he was appointed as the political advisor to President Mandela in the newly created post of Parliamentary Counsellor.[4] 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.[14]

Kathrada was married to Barbara Hogan, a recent Minister of Public Enterprises.[15][16]


Kathrada died at a medical center in Johannesburg from complications of a cerebral embolism on 28 March 2017, aged 87.[17] He was buried the next day in Johannesburg in accordance with Islamic rites.[16] 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.[16] Some South African leaders, including the former president Kgalema Motlanthe and the minister of finance Pravin Gordhan, attended but did not receive any special treatment.[16] President Jacob Zuma, Kathrada's opponent, did not attend the funeral in accordance with the family's wishes.[16]

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.[16]

Honours and awards

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.[18]

Kathrada was also voted 46th in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004.[19]

He was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in 2005.[20]

On 18 July 2011, he and his wife was the chief guest on Nelson Mandela International Day at the United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan, where he shared his views with children.[21]

See also

Further reading

  • Kathrada, Ahmed (1999). Robert Vassen, ed. Letters from Robben Island: A Selection of Ahmed Kathrada's Prison Correspondence. Michigan State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87013-527-9.
  • Kathrada, Ahmed (6 August 2004). Marlene Burger, ed. Ahmed Kathrada memoirs. Paarl, South Africa: Zebra press. ISBN 1-86872-918-4.



  1. ^ "Ahmed Kathrada, South African anti-apartheid activist – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Kathrada 2004, p. 373
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Ahmed Kathrada, unflinching opponent of apartheid in South Africa, dies at 87". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d Dixon, Robyn (27 March 2017). "Ahmed Kathrada dies at 87; Nelson Mandela's trusted ally helped overturn apartheid in South Africa". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Ahmed Kathrada's Most Notable Moments". huffingtonpost.co.za. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  7. ^ Kathrada 2004, p. 374
  8. ^ "Strong Opinion, Sharp Wit, And Humour Mark The Life of Struggle Icon Ahmed Kathrada". huffingtonpost.co.za. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  9. ^ Chan, Sewell (28 March 2017). "Ahmed Kathrada, Anti-Apartheid Activist in South Africa, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  10. ^ "EIGHT CONVICTED IN SOUTH AFRICA". The New York Times. 12 June 1964. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  11. ^ "Where Mandela Kept Hope, Guide Tells Their Shared Saga". The New York Times. 5 July 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  12. ^ Mandela 1996, p. 174
  13. ^ a b jonas (13 July 2011). "Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada Timeline: 1929 – 2017". sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  14. ^ Ahmed Kathrada (31 October 2013). "Unconditional release of Marwan Barghouti is positive step forward". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  15. ^ AfricaNews (30 March 2017). "South Africa's Zuma not welcome at funeral of anti-apartheid hero Kathrada". africanews.com. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Ahmed Kathrada funeral: South Africa's Zuma asked to stay away". BBC. 29 March 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  17. ^ "Struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada has died". eNews Channel Africa. ENCA. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Convocation of Ahmed Kathrada and Barbara Hogan". Archived from the original on 27 August 2011.
  19. ^ "The 10 Greatest South Africans of all time". BizCommunity. 27 September 2004. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  20. ^ Amit Baruah (5 January 2005). "Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Divas awards announced". The Hindu. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  21. ^ "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.

External links

1963 in South Africa

The following lists events that happened during 1963 in South Africa.

Africa Now!

Africa Now! is a progressive weekly radio show that focuses on issues concerning the African world. It is based in Washington D.C.. The program airs on WPFW(89.3) radio, part of the Pacifica Radio network, in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. It also airs nationally and internationally online. It is listener supported.

Barbara Hogan

Barbara Hogan (born 28 February 1952) is a former Minister of Health and of Public Enterprises in the Cabinet of South Africa.

David Makhura

Manemolla David Makhura (born 22 February 1968) is a South African politician and the current Premier of Gauteng following his appointment in 2014. Makhura is a member of the African National Congress (ANC). Makhura is also the trustee of the Board of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

Elijah Mdolomba

Elijah Mdolomba was an African Politician. He was the Secretary-General of the African National Congress from 1930 to 1936.

Govan Mbeki

Govan Archibald Mvuyelwa Mbeki (09 July 1910 – 30 August 2001) was a South African politician and son of Chief Sikelewu Mbeki and Johanna Mahala and also the father of the former South African president Thabo Mbeki and political economist Moeletsi Mbeki. He was a leader of the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress. After the Rivonia Trial, he was imprisoned (1963–1987) on charges of terrorism and treason, together with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada and other eminent ANC leaders, for their role in the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He was sometimes mentioned by his nickname "Oom Gov".

Isitwalandwe Medal

The Isitwalandwe Medal is the highest award given by the African National Congress (ANC). Isitwalandwe means "the one who wears the plumes of the rare bird." It was customarily only given to the bravest warriors, those distinguished by their leadership and heroism.

Past recipients include:

1955 Yusuf Dadoo

1955 Father Trevor Huddleston

1955 Chief Albert Luthuli

1975 Moses Kotane

1980 Govan Mbeki

1980 Bishop Ambrose Reeves

1982 Lilian Ngoyi

1992 Harry Gwala

1992 Helen Joseph

1992 Ahmed Kathrada

1992 Nelson Mandela

1992 Raymond Mhlaba

1992 Wilton Mkwayi

1992 Andrew Mlangeni

1992 Elias Motsoaledi

1992 Walter Sisulu

1992 Oliver Tambo

1994 Joe Slovo

2004 Rachel Simons

2008 Chris Hani

2019 Denis GoldbergOther recipients include: Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Ahmed Timol, Albertina Sisulu and ANC Women’s League founder Charlotte Maxeke.

Jafta Masemola

Jafta Kgalabi Masemola (December 12, 1929 – April 17, 1990), also known as "The Tiger of Azania" and "Bra Jeff" was a South African anti-apartheid activist, teacher, and founder of the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). He spent 27 years in South African prison during the apartheid era in South Africa, and was released in October 1990, shortly before the legalization of the PAC and the African National Congress by F. W. de Klerk. After Nelson Mandela,

he served the longest sentence of any political prisoner in South Africa.Masemola was a teacher in Atteridgeville township in Pretoria in the 1950s.Together with Robert Sobukwe, Masemola co-founded PAC in 1959 in Soweto. Subsequently, he worked for PAC's youth organization in Atteridgeville and then headed PAC's military wing, Poqo.In 1962 Masemola was arrested and convicted on the charge of smuggling individuals out of the country for military training and blowing up power lines. He was imprisoned at Robben Island.He was released from the prison on the 15 October 1989 together with ANC members Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi, Andrew Mlangeni, Oscar Mpetha, Elias Motsoaledi and Walter Sisulu

Masemola was killed in a car accident shortly after his release in 1990.

Joe Modise

Johannes "Joe" Modise (23 May 1929 – 26 November 2001) was a South African political figure. He helped to found Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress, and was its longest serving Commander in Chief, deputised at different points in time by Joe Slovo and Chris Hani. Modise headed MK for a 25-year period, from 1965 to 1990. He served as South Africa's first black Minister of Defence from 1994 to 1999 and led the formation of the post-independence defence force.

As a PUTCO bus driver from Sophiatown, Gauteng, he became interested in the struggle against apartheid at an early age. He at first chose only non-violent means, being arrested with Nelson Mandela and 154 others and tried for treason. All were acquitted. In the 1960s, the South African government were using increasingly violent means to suppress anti-Apartheid activists, and Modise became a guerrilla fighter. He organized resistance groups and trained many other guerrilla fighters. Modise became Commander in Chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe ("MK") following the Rivonia Trial during which other MK high command members such as Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi's were sentenced to life imprisonment.

By 1990, Modise and other representatives of the African National Congress met with the white government. When Mandela was elected President in 1994, he chose Modise as his Defense Minister. Modise was charged with integrating the many sections of guerrilla fighters into the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Kholvad House

Kholvad House, also known as Flat 13, is a Johannesburg, South Africa building and landmark known for its role in the South African struggle for civil rights. It was the home of Robben Island prisoner Ahmed Kathrada for more than 16 years, including 1952 when he planned the Defiance Campaign, and Nelson Mandela used the home to see clients in 1960 when his law firm was shut down.

Makana F.A.

Makana Football Association was a sporting body formed by political prisoners on Robben Island, South Africa who organised football leagues for fellow inmates. Formed in 1966, the association ran a league until 1973, adhering strictly to the Laws of the Game, the FIFA rulebook being one of the few books in the prison library. It was named after the 19th century Xhosa warrior-prophet Makana, who was himself imprisoned on Robben Island.Prior to this, the game had been banned by the prison authorities, but starting in December 1964, prisoners took it turns to "...request to be allowed to play football" every Saturday. At one point the F.A. was running three leagues, with teams from nine clubs competing. The organisation crossed the political divides in the prison, between the ANC and the PAC, with over half of the inmates involved in the leagues. A small group of prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Ahmed Kathrada were, however, barred from participating in or even watching the matches.The Makana F.A. was given honorary membership of FIFA in 2007, and in the same year a film was made telling the story of the F.A., entitled More Than Just a Game. Former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was a Makana F.A. referee. Others involved in the F.A.'s organisation included Steve Tshwete, Dikgang Moseneke, and Tokyo Sexwale.

Mandela and de Klerk

Mandela and de Klerk is a 1997 made-for-television drama film written by Richard Wesley and directed by Joseph Sargent. The film stars Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine. The film documents the negotiations between F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela to end South African apartheid, and was nominated for numerous awards in 1997 and 1998. It originally premiered on Showtime on February 16, 1997.

Nkandla homestead

The private home of former South African President Jacob Zuma, situated about 24 km (15 mi) south of the rural town of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal, commonly referred to as the Nkandla homestead has been the subject of considerable controversy. The use of public funds to make improvements to the compound, which were said to be for security reasons, which cost over R246 million led to significant media coverage and political opposition. A report of the Public Protector found that Zuma unduly benefited from these improvements and the Constitutional Court subsequently found that Zuma and the National Assembly failed to uphold the country's constitution after he failed to comply with the Public Protector's report on the matter. Zuma finally apologised for using public money to fund his private residence and in April 2016 he was asked to resign by prominent public figures, including anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, due to the scandal. The controversy is sometimes referred to as Nkandlagate.

The compound is situated on land owned by the Ingonyama Trust, the legal entity that owns the traditional land administered by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu on behalf of the state for the benefit of its occupants.

Pollsmoor Prison

Pollsmoor Prison, officially known as Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, is located in the Cape Town suburb of Tokai in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was one of the most famous people imprisoned there. He described Pollsmoor Prison as "the truth of Oscar Wilde's haunting line about the tent of blue that prisoners call the sky."Pollsmoor is a maximum security penal facility that continues to hold some of South Africa's most dangerous criminals. Although the prison was designed with a maximum capacity of 4,336 offenders attended by a staff of 1,278, the current inmate population is over 7,000 (a figure which fluctuates daily).

Marlene Lehnberg, known as The Scissor Murderess, served her sentence in Pollsmoor but was paroled in 1986. Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada, both anti-apartheid activists, were also incarcerated at Pollsmoor. Alan Boesak served his prison term here after he was convicted of fraud in 2000.

Prema Naidoo

Parmananthan "Prema" Naidoo (born Doornfontein, Johannesburg, 30 May 1945) is a member of the African National Congress and former Chief Whip of Council and of the majority party in the Johannesburg Metro.

A leading anti-apartheid organiser in the 1970s, Naidoo was detained on 21 November 1981, under the Internal Security Act, and subjected to beatings and torture. After months in detention he was tried and sentenced on 1 April 1982 to an effective further year in prison on the charge of harbouring Stephen Lee, an escaped convict. Lee and two other political prisoners, Tim Jenkin and Alex Moumbaris, had escaped from the Pretoria Maximum Security PrisonOn his release in 1983, Naidoo took part in the formation of the United Democratic Front and was detained again for eight months during the State of Emergency of 1985. After the first non-racial elections of 1994, Naidoo served in senior local authority positions in Johannesburg, until his retirement in 2016. He is presently a member of the board of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.Prema Naidoo is the son of Roy Naidoo and Manonmoney “Ama” Naidoo, grandson of Thambi Naidoo, and brother of Shanthie Naidoo, Indres Naidoo, Murthie Naidoo, Ramnie Dinat.

Samuel Sisulu

Samuel Sisulu (June 1956 - June 2003) was a South African anti-apartheid activist, Soweto uprising student leader and founder of South African Freedom Organisation (SAFO). He was jailed at various prisons including Robben Island in 1978, two years after the 1976 Soweto uprising. Samuel Sisulu was charged under the Terrorism Act. Reported in WIP 3. He was mentioned in the indictment of Paul Langa and found guilty of founding South African Freedom Organisation (SAFO), attempting to cripple the economy of the country by bombing the apartheid government, inciting persons to persuade taxi drivers not to transport workers to place of work, aid strikes, unlawfully aid students in their fight against Bantu education and was also found guilty of recruiting people for military training.

Whilst in Robben Island, Samuel shared prison cells with his adopted father Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada (who became his daughter's godfather). Samuel Sisulu was later released from Robben Island in 1983, after serving 5 years. He married Pinky Pertunia Letsosa and continued to aid students and provide military training. Sisulu became instrumental in the 1994 elections. He became a teacher and served under the new government.

The World that was Ours

The World that was Ours (1967) is Hilda Bernstein's personal account of life in Johannesburg under the oppressive surveillance of the apartheid regime. Hilda and her husband Rusty Bernstein were both detained, along with many others, in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. Upon their release, Rusty was placed under house arrest, while Hilda's day-to-day activities were closely monitored by the Special Branch, if not altogether prohibited. Her memoir recalls these fraught years in the build-up to the landmark Rivonia Trial, the events and ordeals of the Trial itself, and finally the couple's reluctant decision to flee their beloved country in the wake of Rusty's acquittal.

While on the one hand The World that was Ours offers vivid historical insight into the tumultuous climate of Johannesburg in the early 1960s, on the other it reads as a poignant and emotional recollection of the narrator's personal dilemmas, as a mother, a wife and a political activist, torn between her private and public responsibilities. 'This has survived as a South African classic,' wrote Anthony Sampson in the Spectator, 'not just because it's beautifully written, but because it conveys the combination of ordinariness and danger which is implicit in any totalitarian state.'

The World that was Ours is dedicated to 'the men of Rivonia' - Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni and Rusty Bernstein - as well as to their devoted counsel, Bram Fischer.


Vlakplaas is a farm 20 km west of Pretoria that served as the headquarters of the South African Police counterinsurgency unit C10 (later called C1) working for the apartheid government in South Africa. The C-designation of the counterinsurgency unit was its official name but the whole unit became known as Vlakplaas and was commanded first by Dirk Coetzee and then Eugene de Kock.

Vlakplaas functioned as a paramilitary hit squad, capturing political opponents of the apartheid government and either "turning" (converting) or executing them. The Vlakplaas farm was usually the site of multiple executions of political opponents of the apartheid government.In August 2007, it was announced by the South African Department of Science and Technology that the farm would serve a new purpose, as a centre for healing. The centre will conduct research into plants used in traditional medicine, and promote collaboration between practitioners of western medicine and traditional healers.

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