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Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Kathrada
Member of Parliament
In office
Constituency Lenasia
Personal details
Born Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada
(1929-08-21) 21 August 1929
Schweizer-Reneke, Transvaal Province, Union of South Africa
Political party African National Congress
South African Communist Party
Spouse(s) Barbara Hogan
Alma mater University of South Africa
Religion Sunni Islam

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (born 21 August 1929,[1] sometimes known by the nickname "Kathy") is a South African politician and former political prisoner and anti-apartheid activist.

Kathrada's involvement in the anti-apartheid activities of the African National Congress (ANC) led him to his long-term imprisonment following the Rivonia Trial, in which he was held at Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison. Following his release in 1990, he was elected to serve as a member of parliament, representing the ANC.


  • Early life 1
  • Political activist 2
  • Rivonia trial 3
  • Imprisonment 4
  • Activities after release 5
  • Honours and awards 6
  • See also 7
  • Further reading 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Kathrada was born in the small country town of Schweizer-Reneke in the Western Transvaal,[1] the fourth of sixth children in a Gujarati-family of South African Indian Muslim immigrant parents from Surat.[2]

Due to the 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 Johannesburg 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.[1] 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 Durban jail.[3] 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 Witwatersrand he was sent as a delegate of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress to the 3rd World Festival of Youth and Students World Youth Festival of 1951 in Berlin .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 Rivonia, near Johannesburg. 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's degrees in History/Criminology and Bibliography as well as Honours degrees in History and African Politics through the University of South Africa. (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.[4]

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 Cape's Mayibuye Centre.

Kathrada went on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca 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. He remains the chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council. On 27 October 2013, on the island, he launched the International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouthi and All Palestinian Prisoners.[5]

Kathrada's life partner is Ms Barbara Hogan, a recent 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 Missouri, Michigan State University, and the University of Kentucky.[6]

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.

He was the chief guest on Nelson Mandela International Day at the India International Center, where he shared his views with children.

See also

Further reading

  • Kathrada, Ahmed (1999). Robert Vassen, ed. Letters from Robben Island: A Selection of Ahmed Kathrada's Prison Correspondence. Michigan State University Press.  
  • Kathrada, Ahmed (2004-08-06). Marlene Burger, ed. Ahmed Kathrada memoirs. Paarl, South Africa: Zebra press.  


  • Kathrada, Ahmed (2004-08-06). Marlene Burger, ed. Ahmed Kathrada memoirs. Paarl, South Africa: Zebra press.  
  • Mandela, Nelson (1996). The illustrated long walk to freedom. Paul Duncan (abridgement and picture editing). Boston:  
  1. ^ a b c Kathrada 2004, p. 373
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Mandela 1996, p. 174
  5. ^ Ahmed Kathrada (31 October 2013). "Unconditional release of Marwan Barghouti is positive step forward".  
  6. ^ "Convocation of Ahmed Kathrada and Barbara Hogan". 

External links

  • African Activist Archive See a 1970s ANC campaign button "Free South African Political Prisoners - Free Ahmed Kathrada - ANC"
  • South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid - Building Democracy Read a brief biography of Ahmed Kathrada from South African History Online
  • South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid - Building Democracy Listen to an interview with Ahmed Kathrada and two presentations made by him at Michigan State University in 2006 with comments on the armed struggle, banning, freedom, race, post-apartheid South Africa, and the African National Congress (ANC).
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