Ahmed Kathrada: ‘He never gave up’

The late ANC struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada has passed all three tests to be considered a man of greatness, writes Adv AB MAHOMED SC, Deputy President of the Islamic Council of South Africa (KZN).

It is with sadness that we note the passing away of a great stalwart in the personality of Ahmed Kathrada. With advancing years and many years of undergoing physical torture, incarceration, pain and suffering inflicted for making a stand for the freedom of others, it is inevitable that such torture should take its toll.

A historian once said, a great man should be judged by three tests. Was he found to be true to his mettle by his contemporaries? Was he great enough to rise above the standards of his age? Did he leave anything as permanent legacy to the world at large? There may be more tests, but all these three tests of greatness are eminently satisfied to the highest degree when we consider the life and struggles of Ahmed Kathrada since his teen years.

Barely at the age of 17, Kathrada participated in the Passive Resistance Campaign of the South African Indian Congress. He was part of 2 000 people who were arrested and imprisoned for defying a law that discriminated against Indians. Thus began an epic journey of the human spirit for dignity, self-esteem, equality, freedom, justice and democracy for a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa. At an age when young teens would be looking to careers, job opportunities and pleasures of a care free life, Ahmed Kathrada, took the high road of struggle and inevitable hardship.

For the next 70 years he proved true to his mettle. He never gave up even in the darkest days of his incarceration at Robbin Island with another great icon, the Late Nelson Mandela. His biography amply illustrates that despite his tender years, he rose above the standards of his contemporaries. From the 1940’s meetings with Congress leaders, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, I C Meer and JN Singh, the 1952, sentence to nine months in prison with hard labour for organizing a Defiance Campaign against six apartheid laws, the 1954 house arrest, the 1956, High Treason Trial with 156 Congress activists, followed by a “house arrest” again, Ahmed Kathrada stood firm on his principle and remained defiant never to yield to the oppressor.

Any ordinary man would have caved in under such hardships and tribulations. He succeeded in rising above the standards of his peers when facing a death penalty, he never flinched and took his life sentence with the same spirit of resistance and defiance as when he was a teenager.

Along with Mandela, Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, and 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 in the same cell as Mandela. Not to be cowed and dejected, Kathrada four university degrees: BA (in History and Criminology); BA Bibliography (in African Politics and Library Science); BA Honours (History) and BA Honours (African Politics).

Following upon his release with Mandela, a new era for South Africa dawned. South Africans of all races, groups, religions and ethnicities, currently enjoy freedom, equality and a robust constitutional democracy, due to the efforts of such personalities like Ahmed Kathrada. His contribution to a legacy will stand for generations to come.

In a letter addressed to Zuleikha Mayat dated 17th September 1989 at Page 277 titled “Dear Ahmedbhai and Zulekhabehn” The Letters 1979-1989, Ahmed Kathrada demonstrated his humility and complete self-effacement in the face of a huge and tectonic shift in the political struggle in South Africa which struggle had the attention of all great powers and the entire world. This is what he said: “Whilst I hold a strong brief for biographies, I am not convinced that I fall into the category of persons whose lives should be chronicled. True, I have had a long innings of activity during which I have experienced and participated in interesting events. I do not believe this qualifies me as a suitable subject.”

Indeed, in our books, he preeminently qualifies and we in the Islamic Council of South Africa who experienced the struggle of the three decades before the new dawn salute this great man. We express our deepest sympathy and condolences to Barbara Hogan and members of the Kathrada Family. May Allah Almighty grant him Jannatul Firdaws.

Mettle Administrative Services

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