Ahmed Kathrada: Veteran South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Activist Dies at 87

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Ahmed Kathrada,a veteran South African anti-apartheid activist and close friend of Nelson Mandela is dead.

He died today at the age of 87 after a brief illness following a brain surgery in Johannesburg he had recently. Derek Hanekom, the chairman of the Kathrada Foundation confirmed his death saying,

“Comrade Kathy was a gentle, humane and humble soul. He was a determined revolutionary who gave his entire life to the liberation struggle of our country,”

He was an activist who also was sentenced to life imprisonment alongside Nelson Mandela but spent 26 years in prison under the apartheid government and went on to be an open critic of President Jacob Zuma .

Born to immigrant Indian parents in the small town of Schweizer-Reneke in the North West province just before the Great Depression in 1929, Mr Kathrada became involved in politics at the age of 12 when he distributed leaflets for the Young Communist League of South Africa.

Following decades of activism, Mr Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labour in 1964, together with seven other ANC luminaries such as Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki, after a guilty verdict during the Rivonia treason trail.

Jailed at the age of 34, Mr Kathrada spent the next 18 years at the maximum security section on apartheid’s most notorious prison, Robben Island, a few miles offshore from Cape Town.

He was moved to Pollsmoor prison in 1982 and was released from jail on October 15th, 1989 at the age of 60, having spent just over 26 years in jail and went on to be an open critic of President Jacob Zuma .

People gathering for a night vigil to pray for Ahmed Kathrada earlier this month when he was ill in hospital

People gathered for a night vigil to pray for Ahmed Kathrada earlier this month when he was hospitalized

According to Irish Times, Mr Kathrada’s foundation said his condition had deteriorated rapidly with pneumonia affecting both lungs. It announced his death at 6am local time (4am Irish time).

President Jacob Zuma said Mr Kathrada would be honoured at an official state funeral and flags at government offices would fly at half-mast until then.

Mr Kathrada helped inspire the world’s confidence in South Africa’s long battle against white-minority rule, Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said

“May Ahmed rest in peace and rise in glory,” Archbishop Tutu said in a statement. “May he rejoice in many heavenly cups of hot chocolate with his old friends and comrades.”

Last year, Mr Kathrada wrote an open letter calling on Mr Zuma to resign after a series of scandals, from using taxpayers money to upgrade his rural home to destabilising financial markets by flip-flopping on cabinet appointments.

“I am not a political analyst, but I am now driven to ask: Dear Comrade President, don’t you think your continued stay as president will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country?” Mr Kathrada said then.

May his soul rest in peace.


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