Ahmed Kathrada South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Icon, who was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela has died at 87

SOUTH Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada, who was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela has died after a short illness. 

Legendary freedom fighter was often described as Mandela’s “trusted lieutenant”, an “unsung hero” and “humble icon”.

Ahmed Kathrada, a former South African political prisoner who spent 18 years in prison with late South African president Nelson Mandela, poses in front of his commrade’s portrait at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg
Ahmed Kathrada near the barred window in the jail cell of former fellow inmate Nelson Mandela a visit of the Robben Island prison, near Cape Town
Ahmed Kathrada near the barred window in the jail cell of former fellow inmate Nelson Mandela a visit of the Robben Island prison, near Cape Town

Unlike many struggle veterans, Kathrada, who was imprisoned on Robben Island, never held public political office after the fall of apartheid and Mandela’s election as president in 1994.

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He choose instead to serve as one of Mandela’s closest advisers during his time as the country’s first black leader.

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When Mandela left office in 1999, after serving a single four-year term, Kathrada also stepped away from politics – immersing himself in activism through his Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

Released from prison in 1989, the softly-spoken Kathrada commanded huge respect within the African National Congress (ANC) party, belonging to the golden generation of freedom fighters untainted by later corruption scandals.

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He was often described as Mandela’s “trusted lieutenant”, an “unsung hero” and “humble icon”.

To those close to him, he was known as “Kathy” or “Uncle Kathy”.

In his book “Long Walk to Freedom”, Mandela recalled meeting a young and impassioned Kathrada during the early days of the struggle, and then their later time on Robben Island.

“Kathy was a slender fellow unused to hard physical labour,” Mandela said, referring to the back-breaking daily work of crushing rock at the prison quarry.

People hold candles as they gather for a night vigil to pray for Anti Apartheid struggle veteran and Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada currently ill in hospital last week
People hold candles as they gather for a night vigil to pray for Anti Apartheid struggle veteran and Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada currently ill in hospital last week
Mandela recounted how Kathrada was mocked by prison warders when he could not move a wheelbarrow laden with rocks, while the guards prevented Mandela from helping his friend.

In the cells, “Kathy” was a teacher for fellow prisoners and a strategic thinker who later formed part of the ANC delegation in the negotiations that finally ended apartheid.