Published: Wed, March 29, 2017
Research | By Francis Brooks

South African anti-apartheid leader Ahmed Kathrada dies aged 87

Convicted and sentenced to life in prison, the 34-year-old Kathrada was sent to Robben Island, the infamous prison off Cape Town.

South Africa's revered Indian-origin anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, who was one of Nelson Mandela's closest aides in his struggle to end the white minority rule, died in Johanesburg on Tuesday.

The trial drew worldwide attention to the brutal legal system under the apartheid regime.

He spent a total 26 years in prison.

Kathrada has had an illustrious political career, having served between 1994 and 1999 as the parliamentary counsellor to then President Mandela.

On July 11, 1963, Kathrada was arrested at the South African internal headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe ('The Spear of the Nation' - the military wing of the ANC) in Rivonia, near Johannesburg. While in hiding, he helped organize a 1961 television interview with Nelson Mandela, explaining the ANC's shift from passive resistance to armed struggle.

"Uncle Kathy, despite disagreement with the ANC leadership from time to time, never abandoned nor turned his back on the ANC".

FILE - In this December 15, 2013 file photo, anti-apartheid activist and close friend of Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, speaks during the funeral service for the former South African president in Qunu, South Africa.

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Kathrada wanted to ensure that those imprisoned afterward would be able to forgive when they were eventually released.

In jail, he had been a teacher for fellow prisoners and a strategic thinker who formed part of the ANC delegation in the negotiations that finally ended apartheid. "He was a determined revolutionary who gave his entire life to the liberation struggle in our country", said Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.

Kathrada will be buried according to Muslim religious rights on Wednesday, the foundation said.

Kathrada frequently engaged with youth leaders and led trips to the former Robben Island prison. He was a defendant in South Africa's two historic trials: the five-year Treason Trial, which started in 1956 and precipitated a turn in the African National Congress's reaction to apartheid, and the 1964 Rivonia Trial, in which anti-apartheid leaders were charged with plotting violent revolution.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa paid his respects to ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada at his family home in Killarney.

"This is great loss to the [African National Congress], the broader liberation movement and South Africa as a whole", Neeshan Balton, executive director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said.

Kathrada late in life became such a scathing critic of current President Jacob Zuma, even pleading with him to resign, that he requested Zuma not attend his funeral, the Mail & Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday.

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