Struggle veteran Amed Kathrada has died, aged ?? (whenever it happens). Kathrada was part of the Rivonia trialists with Nelson Mandela and Dennis Goldberg. He was one of the only three surviving members of that trial. He died following complications after an operation to remove a blood clot of the brain.

Kathrada has always been referred to as a close comrade and confidante of former president Nelson Mandela. He is a veteran of the South African liberation struggle, long-serving political prisoner on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison. Ahmed Kathrada spent 26 years in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. The last eight years were spent at Pollsmoor Maximum Prison where he joined fellow Rivonia trialists Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Raymond Mhlaba who had been moved there a few months before.

Kathrada during his youth (Image: SAhistory)

He had joined the liberation movements at a very young age. At age 17, he left school to work full-time in the offices of the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council 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, defined areas where they could live, trade and buy land. This saw Kathrada involved in movements like the Passive Resistance Campaign of the Indian Congress.

Later the alliance between the African and Indian Congresses developed, Kathrada came into closer contact with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, J.B. Marks and other African leaders Kathrada believed that it was only under a democratic form of government, that the non-whites in the country will be accorded their dignity.

He obtained four University degrees during his incarceration at Robben Island. In addition to receiving the Isitwalandwe Award, the ANC’s highest possible accolade, whilst still in prison, he was awarded four honourory degrees from several world universities. After the unbanning of the ANC in 1990 he was elected to several leadership positions of the organisation. In the latter part of his life, as Chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council, Kathrada had become synonymous with high profile tours to the island. Some of the well known names he accompaied to visit Madiba’s prison cell included Hollywood actress Charlize Theron and former American first lady, Michelle Obama, with anecdonal stories of life there with Madiba.

At an ANC Conference in 1997, Kathrada declined a nomination to the National Executive Committee. Two years later, he resigned from parliamentary politics.

In 2004, Kathrada was voted 46th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Alongside the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Madiba, Kathrada was also in 2015 awarded the Freedom of the city of Cape Town. The award is given to those that distinguish themselves by their heroic service.

– By Thandiswa Mawu