Ahmed Kathrada was born on 21 August 1929 in Schweizer-Reneke, a small rural South African town, about 200 miles from Johannesburg.
Kathrada was introduced to politics as a child in Johannesburg when he joined a non-racial youth club run by the Young Communist League, according to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation. He was part of several anti-apartheid movements in his youth days.
At the age of 17 Kathrada participated in the Passive Resistance Campaign of the South African Indian Congress, and he was part of 2 000 people who were arrested and imprisoned for defying a law that discriminated against Indians.
In 1963, Kathrada’s political activism culminated in his arrest with other anti-apartheid activists in a police raid at Liliesleaf Farm, in Rivonia, which was a secret safe haven outside Johannesburg. He was arrested with struggle stalwarts including Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni.
Kathrada spent 26 years and 3 months in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island.
After independence, Kathrada remained resolute and critical in speaking on fundamental issues on governance, human rights, poverty, and social justice issues.
The country mourns the death of a struggle icon and tributes continue to pour in. We remember Kathrada, and share with you a selection of some of his most profound and inspirational quotes.
1. “The people’s interest must at all times remain supreme”. Letter to President Jacob Zuma, 31 March 2016.
2. “We increasingly hear and read of “untransformed” counter-revolutionaries, “neo-liberals”, “coconuts”, and the newest is “clever blacks”. On their own they can be dismissed, ridiculed or ignored. However, it is the constant repetition of such terms that is disturbing. Speech delivered at the University of the Witwatersrand on 11 December 2012.
3. “It must be a critical understanding of history that corrects distorted versions of liberation in which only certain groupings are seen to have fought for freedom”. Article published in the World Policy Journal.
4. “We can only be satisfied and happy when:
- every child
- wakes up in a warm house
- has a good nutritious breakfast
- is able to say a loving good bye to both working parents
- goes to school in safe and reliable transport
- is met at school by teachers who are there on time, ready and able to teach”. Speech delivered on 21 August 2012 in Kliptown, Soweto on the bestowing of the Freedom of the City Award.
5. “In South Africa today, we have a number of politically parties; with minor differences all the main programmes are similar on major issues. Our enemy today is not apartheid. Our enemy is poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness, crime, unemployment,” Speech delivered on 16 April 2010.
6. “…but we say that if under very arduous conditions, if prisoners from different parties on Robben Island could unite against the common enemy, today why can’t we unite against this common enemy which is poverty, hunger, disease?” Speech delivered on 16 April 2010.
7. “Our armed struggle was aimed at forcing the enemy to the negotiating table. So, that’s a part of the lesson for the people who are in the struggle”.
8. “Hatred, revenge, bitterness – these are negative emotions. The person harbouring those emotions suffers more”.
9. “When Walter (Sisulu) died, I lost a father. And now I have lost a brother. My life is void and I don’t know who to turn to,” at the passing on of Nelson Mandela.
10. “Another growing threat is the ignorance of young people about the history of our struggle. They need to know that with freedom comes responsibility”. Article published in the World Policy Journal.