Alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Denis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, and other African National Congress (ANC) members, Ahmed Kathrada was another one of the famous prisoners of Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison who was locked up after being sentenced to life imprisonment at the now infamous Rivonia Trial.
After gaining freedom in 1990, the former political prisoner and anti-apartheid activist served as a Member of Parliament from 1994, when the apartheid regime became a thing of the past, until 1999. At his long-time friend’s behest, Kathrada accepted a position as an advisor to President Mandela after he declined the offer of Cabinet minister. He further spent a lot of time mentoring politically-minded youths in the country.
Ahmed Kathrada Biography
On the 21st of August, 1929 in the Western Transvaal country town of Schweizer-Reneke, South Africa, Ahmed Kathrada was welcomed into the world by his South African Indian immigrant parents from Surat, Gujarat. He was the fourth of their six children.
Because of the nature of policies at the time in the area he was raised, Kathrada could not gain admission to any European schools, even those designated for Africans. Due to this, he was left with no option but to move to Johannesburg to receive an education. As a result of the policies that required him to leave home in order to attend school, the young boy at just the age of 12 became politically active.
Influenced by the likes of IC Meers, JN Singh, Moulvi & Yusuf Cachalia and Dr. Yusuf Dadoo – leaders of Transvaal Indian Congress, Ahmed Kathrada, commonly known as Kathy, joined the Young Communist League of South Africa. He performed duties such as handing out leaflets and other volunteer work. He was also involved in the anti-war campaign of the Non-European United Front during World War II.
By the time Ahmed Kathrada turned 17 years of age, he left school to work full-time for the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council. The council came about as a result of the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act (also known as the Ghetto act), which was seeking to limit the political representation of Indians, as well as limit the locations where they could trade, own land and live.
This resulted in Kathy’s first jail stint as he was imprisoned alongside two thousand others in Durban jail because of their participation in the campaign. Following his release after a month, the young activist was elected as the Secretary-General of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress (TIYC).
Ahmed Kathrada later attended the University of Witwatersrand. He would also later go on to spend some time in Europe working with different youth organizations. By the 1950s, Kathy had returned to South Africa where the Indian and African congresses had formed alliances to fight the apartheid government. It was around this time that he became very close to African National Congress leaders like Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela.
On the 11th of July, 1963, Ahmed Kathrada was arrested the headquarters of the military wing of the ANC (Umkhonto we Sizwe) in Rivonia. While not a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he was charged with sabotage and attempt to overthrow the government by violent means.
In June 1964, Kathy was sentenced to life imprisonment and would go on to spend the next eighteen years at the Robben Island Maximum Security Prison. While there, he completed his Bachelor’s degree in History/Criminology, Bachelor’s degree in Bibliography, and Honours degrees in History and African Politics from the University of South Africa. He was unable to get a postgraduate degree because prisoners were not permitted to.
Ahmed Kathrada later gained freedom on the 15th of October 1989 and began a political career that saw him serve in parliament as well as in the leadership committees of both the ANC and the South African Communist Party.
Family – Wife, and Children
Ahmed Kathrada was married to Barbara Hogan, a former South African Minister of Health and former Minister of Public Enterprises.
Hogan was the first white woman in South Africa to be found guilty of high treason. As a result of this, she was sentenced to ten years in prison. Following her release in 1990, the Accounting and Economics degree holder from the University of Witwatersrand would go-ahead to meet Kathrada and the pair would get married.
Kathrada and Hogan never had children of their own but her husband was said to be very fond of children, often spending time to listen to them and answer their questions.
Ahmed Kathrada’s Death and Funeral
Ahmed Kathrada died on the 28th of March 2017 at the age of 87. He died from complications of a cerebral embolism at a medical centre in Johannesburg.
In accordance with Islamic rites, he was buried the next day in a funeral that has been described as just simple. President Jacob Zuma did not attend the funeral but ordered the South African flag to be flown at half-mast to mark the death of a fallen hero.