Ahmed Kathrada: Hamba Kahle Mkhonto – tributes for a life well lived

By Jillian Green

SOUTH African flags are to fly at half-mast as the country mourns the passing of struggle stalwart, Ahmed Kathrada.

Uncle Kathy. Mr K. Kathy. Ahmed. Comrade. Son of the Soil. He was known by many names to many people.

And on Tuesday some of those people remembered struggle stalwart, Ahmed Kathrada who died, aged 87, during the early hours of the morning following a short illness.

Speaking at a prayer meeting for Mr K at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, an emotional Zenani Mandela remembers a man who came to be her “other father”.

“He was my father’s closest friend, his brother and confidante,” Mandela said, adding that it was abundantly clear that millions of South Africans considered Kathrada family.

Mandela called on South Africans to keep Kathrada and Nelson Mandela’s legacy alive by fighting for and ensuring that their ideals stay a tangible part of the country and its government.

“Uncle Kathy practised what he preached, he walked the talk…we should not forget the sacrifices that they made.”

Kathrada spent 26 years in jail – 18 of which on Robben Island – after being convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, with hard labour, alongside Mandela, Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and Elias Motsoaledi during the Rivonia Treason trial.

Remembering the Kathrada then, Advocate George Bizos recalled how the state had attempted to get Uncle Kathy to turn on his comrades.

“He told the prosecution: ‘Do not to expect me to say anything that would help you get a conviction against my comrades… Finish and klaar’,” Bizos said.

Bizos described Kathrada as the “smartest accused and the smartest prisoner the regime had to deal with”.

Kathrada Foundation CEO, Neeshan Balton said 10,000 pages of declassified documents on Kathrada from the apartheid era painted a picture of an activist who was “militant to the core”.

“His militancy would make Julius Malema look tame,” Balton said, adding that this militancy was coupled with discipline.

“When a route of a negotiated settlement was decided upon, he committed fully to that,” Balton said.

Kathrada first started showing signs of illness after taking part in a walk in Cape Town commemorating the 1990 release of Mandela.

He spent a few days in a Cape hospital before insisting that he return to Johannesburg where he spent the better part of February in bed.

He seemed to be recovering but then suffered severe dehydration, Balton said.

It was while being treated for dehydration that doctors discovered severe blood-clotting on the brain which had to be operated on.

On Monday the foundation indicated that his condition had worsened. Kathrada had given strict instructions that he did not want to be put on life support. His death in hospital was announced on Tuesday morning.

President Jacob Zuma, while sending condolences to Kathrada’s partner, former minister of Public Enterprises Barbara Hogan and the Kathrada family, declared a Special Official Funeral for Kathrada.

Zuma also instructed that the national flag fly at half-mast at every station in the country from March 28 until the evening of the official memorial service. Kathrada was buried as per Muslim rite on Wednesday at the Wespark Cemetery.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa represented the government at the funeral. “The knowledge that Uncle Kathy was in his twilight years has done little to lessen the blow,” said ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe.

“His life is a lesson in humility, tolerance, resilience and a steadfast commitment to principle, even when taking a principled stance would place him at odds with his comrades.

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

“We mourn this great Son of Africa, we salute his life,” Mantashe said, adding that the country has lost a leader whose service to his country will forever be inscribed.

Former president Thabo Mbeki through his foundation said:

“As we remember a life so well lived, we cannot but reflect on the valuable counsel Comrade Kathy conveyed to all of us, including and in particular the importance of promoting the understanding that leaders exist to serve the people rather than to cultivate their personal interests.”

“The TMF believes that to the extent that the ideals for which Comrade Kathy fought are yet to be realised, we must do everything to ensure that the values, which inspired him to battle, germinate a million times over and produce more of his calibre who will, instead of submitting, vigorously prosecute the struggle for a South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it,” a statement from the foundation read.

The EFF called on South Africans to learn from the selflessness of Kathrada.

“He always prioritised the marginalised, ensuring that their voices are heard and respected.

We must adopt an uncompromising posture at all times in the fight against corruption as he did.

We must be prepared, as he did, to pay even with our lives and imprisonment if needs be as he did,” it said.

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane remembered what a special place children had in Kathrada’s life.

“He told me of the years on Robben Island where he never heard or saw the presence of children.

He shared with me that for him freedom meant hearing the voices of children, indicating his sincere compassion, as well as his commitment to the future of our beautiful country,” Maimane said.

“Uncle Kathy embodied a profound sense of compassion, and an unwavering commitment to true justice,” he said.

In true Archbishop Desmond Tutu style, Tutu said he hoped that Kathrada was “rejoicing in many heavenly cups of hot chocolate with his old friends and comrades, Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi and Mahlaba, among them”.

Tutu described Kathrada as a person of the highest integrity and moral fibre who, through their humility and humanity, inspired our collective self-worth – and the world’s confidence in us.

“He was a man of remarkable gentleness, modesty – and steadfastness.

A leader who embraced the simple life, who eschewed consumptiveness, who supported righteous causes at home and abroad, whose loyalty to the ANC extended, also, to criticising it,” he said.

Commemorating Kathrada’s life, Section 27 said while his long journey had come to an end, the nation’s was just beginning.

“We owe it to Kathrada to live in the just and equal world he imagined and fought for. We owe it to (him) to protect the very principles of freedom that he worked so tirelessly to realise.

The greatest honour to Kathy is to defend everything we have fought for, with everything we have got. That fight is now.” – Daily Maverick

April 2017
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