The South African former political prisoner, politician, anti-apartheid activist, freedom fighter and ANC leader Ahmed Kathrada, known under his nickname Kathy, died Tuesday at a Johannesburg hospital at age 87.
He spent a large portion of his life in the Robben Island and Pollsmooth prisons, along with Nelson Mandela, his lifelong friend and struggle comrade. They were condemned to spend life in prison, following South Africa's two historic trials: the five-year Treason Trial, which started in 1956 and the 1964 Rivonia Trial, in which anti-apartheid leaders were charged with plotting violent revolution against the apartheid government.
He was held in the maximum security prison on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, at age 34, where he was held for the next 26 years. He was released at 60 years old.
In the first trial, known as Treason Trial, the 156 defendants, who included prominent ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, and Govan Mbeki, were acquitted of treason. In 1960, during the trial, South Africa's apartheid government banned the ANC. A year later, the ANC formed its armed wing, uMkhonto weSizwe, Spear of the Nation and the leaders, including Kathrada went underground. In months that followed, ANC led an armed campaign against the government.
On July 11, 1963, the South-African apartheid police raided Liliesleaf Farm, where prominent anti-apartheid leaders had gathered, arrested Kathrada and others, and found the ANC's secret military plans.
Those arrested were charged and convicted of treason during the Rivonia Trial. They declined to appeal the verdict or sentence, knowingly but resolutely exposing themselves to death by hanging. They were condemned to life in prison.
In 1982, Kathrada and other ANC leaders were moved to the maximum security prison of Pollsmoor in Cape Town. After refusing multiple conditional releases, he was finally released from prison in 1989. After the elections of 1994 in which Mandela was elected president, he served as Mandela's parliamentary advisor. Nelson Mandela and, consequently, Ahmad Kathrada, stepped down in 1999.
Ahmed Kathrada became chairman of the Robben Island Museum and resided on the island where he gave VIP tours of the prison. In 2013, he gave a tour to President Obama and the first family. He never had a descendent of his own, but spent most of his remaining life on projects to help children and the youth. His moto was about the healing power forgiveness.
Ahmad Kathrada was not satisfied by the state of cohesion and social justice and equity in South Africa, almost quarter a century after the end of apartheid:
"Indians still live in Lenasia. Coloureds still live in Eldorado. Blacks still live in Soweto," he told the media.
In 2016, he wrote an open letter to Jacob Zuma, the controversial and beleaguered South African President demanding his resignation, for his failure as a leader.