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by Yacoob Cassim
Ahmad Kathrada a veteran of the Struggle against the Apartheid Regime has passed away at the age of 87. The influential Stalwart was amongst those who were tried and jailed in the infamous Rivonia Trial in 1964. During the time before the trial Kathrada was deeply involved with former President Nelson Mandela’s Liberation Movement the African National Congress (ANC). They had used Rivonia as a base before being routed by the Police.
Kathrada was a man known for his light heartening humour that often saw the absurdities of the struggle and the brutality of the regime led by the likes of Hendrik Verwoed and PW Botha. Kathrada once reflected how Govan Mbeki – the former President’s father – used to sell the eggs he coaxed from the Lillisleaf chickens to his fellow activists despite their protestations. The greatest loss he would suffer following his imprisonment on Robin Island was the toll time had taken on the world.
Technological advancements such as Computers, hotel room cards instead of keys and the clutter of the Modern world were a mystery to him. Certainly he found driving on the new motor ways to be too stressful and confusing. He would even find understanding an ordinary ATM to be a mission. However in terms of politics Kathrada was to assist Mandela in understanding the role that Parliament was to play in the new democracy. He was an astute, passionate and influential personality, whom his contemporaries often looked towards for advice.
He served as Parliamentary Councillor to the country’s first democratically elected government from 1994 and 1999. “Kathy” as he was nicknamed played an influential role in laying the ground work for our democracy and was hailed as an individual who never feared standing up to injustice even if it was against the current leaders of the ANC.
When the struggle against the regime called upon him to pose as a white man so he could spy on Apartheid agents, he dyed his hair and put on make up. His cover was a Portuguese man called Pedro. Kathrada would then enter restaurants where government agents would meet. He was always uncomfortable in this role as he risked discovery of been a non-white person. This would have meant jail time possibly for life if he had admitted to his true intentions under interrogation.
Kathrada had started in the struggle at the age of 17 when he and 2000 “Passive Resisters” were arrested in 1946 for defying laws that discriminated against Indian South Africans. This was the era in which the British Empire still held sway over the country so colonial rule tended to be as brutal as anywhere else when it was met with resistance. Certainly what happened in SA would have an impact on India during its struggle for independence.
Kathrada will be remembered as a man would great humour and as someone who cared deeply for this country. His role in our transition to democracy proved invaluable. He was known for having been strong when it came to the principles of democratic freedom.
Kathrada will be buried according to Muslim Burial rights.