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Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (sometimes nicknamed Kathy) (born 21 August 1929) is a South African politician and was an anti-apartheid activist and political prisoner.

In addition to being a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement, Kathrada is best known for being one of the famous Rivonia Trialists as well as a long-serving political prisoner on Robben Islandmarker and in Pollsmoor Prison. He was also an African National Congress (ANC) leader and a South African member of parliament.

Early life

Kathrada was born in the small country town of Schweizer-Renekemarker in the Western Transvaalmarker, to Indian immigrant parents.

Due to the apartheid policies of the time, he could not be admitted to any of the "European" or "African" schools in the area and thus he had to move to Johannesburgmarker to be educated. Once in Johannesburg, he was influenced by leaders of the Transvaal Indian Congress such as Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, IC Meer, Moulvi and Yusuf Cachalia, and JN Singh. Consequently, he became a political activist at the early age of 12 when he joined the Young Communist League of South Africa. He took part in various activities such as handing out leaflets and performing volunteer work in the individual passive resistance against the Pegging Act in 1941. During World War II, he was involved in the anti-war campaign of the Non-European United Front.

He obtained his matric at Johannesburg Indian High.

Political activist

At the age of 17 he left school to work full-time for the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council in order to work against the "Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act", commonly referred to as the "Ghetto Act", which sought to give Indians limited political representation and defined the areas where Indians could live, trade and own land.

Kathrada was one of the two thousand volunteers imprisoned as a result of the campaign – he spent a month in a Durbanmarker jail. This was his first jail sentence for civil disobedience. Reportedly, he gave an incorrect age to the police so that he would not be treated as a juvenile, but sent to an adult prison instead. Later, he was elected as secretary-general of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress.

While Kathrada was a student at the University of the Witwatersrandmarker, he was sent as a delegate of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress to the World Youth Festival of 1951 in Berlinmarker. He was elected as the leader of the large multi-racial South African delegation. He remained in Europe in order to attend a congress of the International Union Students in Warsawmarker, Polandmarker and finally travelled to Budapestmarker and worked at the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth for nine months.

As result of the growing co-operation between the African and Indian Congresses in the 1950s, Kathrada came into close contact with African National Congress leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu; he was one of 156 accused in the four year Treason Trial, which lasted from 1956 to 1961. Eventually, all of the accused were found not guilty.

After the ANC and various other anti-apartheid organisations were banned in 1960, Kathrada continued his political activities despite repeated detentions and increasingly severe house arrest measures against him. In order to be free to continue his activities, Kathrada went underground in early 1963.

Rivonia trial

On 11 July 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 Rivoniamarker, near Johannesburgmarker. Although Kathrada was not a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he became one of the accused in the famous Rivonia Trial, which started in October 1963. He was charged with sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government by violent means.

The trial ended in June 1964; Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Billy Nair, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba and Dennis Goldberg.


For the following 18 years, Kathrada was confined to the Robben Island Maximum Security Prison along with most of his Rivonia Trial "colleagues". In October 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor Maximum Prison near Cape Town to join others such as Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni who had been moved there a few months before.

While in jail on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor, Kathrada completed Bachelor degrees in History/Criminology and Bibliography as well as Honours degrees in History and African Politics through the University of South Africamarker. (The prison authorities refused to allow him or the other prisoners to pursue postgraduate studies.)

On 15 October 1989 Kathrada, along with Jeff Masemola, Raymond Mhlaba, Billy Nair, Wilton Mkwayi, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Oscar Mpetha, and Walter Sisulu were released from Johannesburg prison.

Activities after release

After the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990, Kathrada served on the interim leadership committees of both the ANC and the South African Communist Party. He resigned from the latter position when he was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee in July 1991. During the same year, he was appointed as head of ANC public relations as well as a fellow of the University of the Western Capemarker's Mayibuye Centre.

Kathrada went on the Hajj pilgrimage to Meccamarker in 1992.

In the first all-inclusive democratic South African elections in 1994, Kathrada was elected as a member of parliament for the ANC; in September 1994 he was appointed as the political advisor to President Mandela in the newly created post of Parliamentary Counsellor. In June 1999, Kathrada left parliamentary politics.

In 1994 and 1995, Kathrada was elected as chairperson of the Robben Island Council. Currently, he still serves as the chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council.

Kathrada life partner is Ms Barbara Hogan the current Minister of Public Enterprises.

Honours and awards

In addition to receiving the Isitwalandwe Award (the ANC’s highest possible accolade) whilst still in prison, Kathrada has also been awarded four Honorary Doctorates, including the University of Missourimarker and Michigan State Universitymarker.

Kathrada was also voted 46th in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004.

He was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in 2005.

See also

Further reading


  1. Kathrada 2004, p. 373
  2. Kathrada 2004, p. 374
  3. Mandela 1996, p. 174

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