Windhoek-President Hage Geingob yesterday sent a message of condolence to South African President Jacob Zuma and the people of South Africa on the passing of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Mohammed Kathrada.
Kathrada, who served prison time on Robben Island together with Namibia’s struggle icon Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, who served 16 years, passed away in Johannesburg yesterday morning.
“It is my profound sadness and sorrow to have learnt of the passing away of Comrade Kathrada,” said Geingob in a letter of condolence to his counterpart. “On behalf of the Swapo party, government and the people of Namibia, I wish to convey our deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences to Your Excellency, and through you, to the ANC government and people of South Africa and particularly the Kathrada family,” said Geingob.
He described Kathrada as “a true patriot”, saying the “sad news of his passing will reverberate not only in South Africa, but also in Namibia and the world at large”. In Kathrada, said Geingob, “South Africa has lost a true son of the soil,” who would be remembered “as a cadre, veteran and anti-apartheid activist who fought alongside and supported his fellow ANC icon, [the late] Nelson Mandela.”
According to Geingob, Kathrada exemplified a selfless nature as at an early age he chose to dedicate his life to the struggle for the liberation of South Africa.
“Joining his fellow cadres in a heroic quest to end the oppression of black people in South Africa, he fought a good fight so that today, we all can trully be free,” said Geingob.
The 92-year-old Ya Toivo remembered Kathrada as an anti-apartheid activist. Ya Toivo said Kathrada and he, together with Mandela, were imprisoned on Robben Island and shared the same section.
“We spent some time together on Robben Island. As the man I know, you could not separate Mandela from Kathrada, although Kathrada was a South African Indian. He was committed to do away with apartheid,” Ya Toivo noted.
According to Ya Toivo, as an Indian Kathrada could have been involved in business in South Africa because that’s what many Indians did at the time, like today. He said although many Indians at times supported the liberation movement in South Africa they didn’t leave their businesses.
Ya Toivo opined that Kathrada could have been one of those “magnet business people” but he decided to work with the ANC.
“That’s what took him to Robben Island. He was committed to the struggle of eradicating apartheid. I am happy to say, in spite of the fact that he is no more, he was happy to see a non-racial South Africa which he fought for.”
Ya Toivo said he lived in the same section with Kathrada where they shared jokes and meals.
“We were moved together with him to a zinc section and later on I was transferred and enjoyed another group,” he narrated.
Meanwhile, dignitaries who included ANC struggle stalwarts gathered at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg yesterday to remember the life and times spent with their fellow icon Kathrada.
They included Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Sophie de Bruyn, George Bizos and Barbara Masekela. De Bruyn related anecdotes from the time she met Kathrada for the first time in the 1950s in Johannesburg. As an activist, she was one of those tasked with organising programmes against the apartheid government on behalf of so-callled Coloured people.
Kathrada was a humble and generous man, said De Bruyn.
“We were accommodated as the Coloured congress by the Indian congress at their building in Johannesburg’s West Street. I remember working from a basement with others, seeing comrade Kathy discuss politics and interact with us. He united the Coloureds and Indians. It was hard for us to organise during those days as we did not have money, the ANC did not have money as well … but our Indian comrades accommodated us because we all fought against one system,” she said.
Kathrada had a sense of humour and was well connected and knew a lot of people across all racial lines, she said. Masekela said Kathrada, fondly known as Uncle Kathy, was selflessly committed to the struggle against apartheid.
Her interaction with Kathrada started at the then New Age newspaper, founded in 1954 by trade unionists and academics, and which published the plight of the oppressed black majority in South Africa.
“I got a job in the subscriptions department of New Age. Ruth First was the editor. That is where I met comrade Kathy, and whenever I saw him I would remind him how handsome he was, how aloof and serious he was … we were teenagers working at the newspaper and we could not believe that anyone could be that serious. We tried to imagine what his private life was like and we couldn’t because he was just someone who was single-mindedly devoted to the struggle,” Masekela told the audience.
The newspaper was “a paper for the people” that told the public what was happening in the fight for independence by movements across the continent, she said.
Bizos, who was part of the legal team representing the Rivonia Treason Trial accused, including Nelson Mandela, Kathrada and Walter Sisulu, said Kathrada was steadfast and would not reveal any information about his co-accused to the state.
“He refused to point out anything done or said by the other accused, as the state tried to get him on his side. He was smart, and once told a prosecutor to not expect him to say anything that would help him to get a conviction against his comrades,” said Bizos.
President Zuma has declared a “special official funeral” for the late Rivonia Treason Trialist, to be held today in accordance with Muslim religious rites. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa would lead the send-off of the stalwart on behalf of the South African government. – Additional reporting by Nampa/ANA