Indian-origin South African anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada dies at 87

Ahmed Kathrada was among 2,000 people who were arrested and imprisoned for defying a law that discriminated against South African Indians

Veteran Indian-origin South African anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, who was one of Nelson Mandela’s closest aides, died today at a hospital here aged 87. Kathrada died this morning at the Donald Gordon Hospital, his foundation said.

“This is great loss to the ANC (African National Congress), the broader liberation movement and South Africa as a whole. Internationally, he was staunch in his support for the Palestinian struggle,” Neeshan Balton, Executive Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said.

“‘Kathy’ was an inspiration to millions in different parts of the world,” said Balton.

Kathrada, who frequently referred to Mandela as his ‘elder brother’, was among three political prisoners who were sentenced to life imprisonment together with the South African anti-apartheid icon after the infamous Rivonia Trial of 1964.

The two others were Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg. They played major roles in shaping the country’s policies after Mandela’s election as the first democratic President of South Africa.

“We are deeply saddened to learn this morning of the passing on of our dear friend and founding trustee, Ahmed Kathrada,” said the Nelson Mandela foundation on Twitter.

Kathrada was born on August 21, 1929 in Schweizer-Reneke, a town in the North West Province of South Africa, and 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 among 2,000 people who were arrested and imprisoned for defying a law that discriminated against South African Indians.

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.

Kathrada spent 26 years and 3 months in prison, including 18 years on Robben Island.While in prison, he obtained four university degrees.

Kathrada also received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, India’s highest honour for foreign nationals of Indian- origin, in 2005 from the President of India.

Despite having left the political arena, Kathrada has maintained a hectic schedule of local and international travel for the past few years in pursuit of the objectives of a non-racial society espoused by the Foundation that bears his name.

A prolific writer, Kathrada penned six books himself or with co-authors. He is survived by his wife Barbara Hogan, also an ANC stalwart and veteran. Kathrada will be buried according to Muslim religious rites.