Ahmed Kathrada turns 85 and celebrates at Wits University


BIRTHDAY BOY: Struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada alongside his wife Barbara Hogan enjoy the performances in the Great Hall last night. Photo: Luke Matthews

Struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada, known to many as ‘Uncle Kathy’ was joined by his peers, South African politicians, school kids, Wits staff and students, as he celebrated his 85th birthday at the Wits Great Hall last night.

Wits SRC (Student Representative Council) and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation hosted the veteran’s milestone birthday celebrations which included special guests Judge Dikgang Moseneke, Deputy Vice-chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe and struggle veteran Advocate George Bizos.

“There is great merit in turning 85 and I strongly recommend it,” Kathrada told the audience in his address. He went on to thank Wits for the recognition it gave him in 2012. “I was a student of this university for three whole months and the university didn’t forget me, they actually gave me a doctorate, a free doctorate,” he joked.

Judge Moseneke, the Chancellor of Wits, said Kathrada’s fight for freedom flowed from selflessness: “We enter the public terrain to server others and not ourselves. We must do more than say ‘Batho pele’.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Ahmed Kathrada stood to receive his birthday cake and for the singing of "Happy birthday". Photo: Luke Matthews

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Professor Tawana Kupe, left, takes a photo of Ahmed Kathrada, middle, as he receives his birthday cake. 
Photo: Luke Matthews

SRC president Shafee Verachia thanked Kathrada “… for showing us what responsible citizenship is about and that good will always triumph over bad.”

Kathrada was presented with a number of gifts including an SRC blazer and a number 85 Bidvest Wits jersey.  He joked that he will be playing in this Saturday’s game against Orlando Pirates.

Kathrada, who spent 18 years in prison on Robben Island, was particular appreciative of the school children in attendance. Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela after the event, he said: “The nicest part of this day was the school children. What you miss most in jail is children so it was just the right way to start my birthday.”

A Wits group called The Scent and SAMA (South African Music Awards) winner Ifani also performed at last night celebrations.


Gone but never forgotten, farewell Madiba


A message pinned to the fence at the Durban City Hall where mourners gathered to watch the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

The final scene in the story of a giant’s life took place today in Qunu, Eastern Cape. Ten days of mourning came to a climatic end, as Nelson Mandela was laid to rest in the place of his birth.

Mandela’s casket was transported on the back of a military truck, after days of back and forth movement when lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to be viewed by the public and a further journey to Qunu for the funeral.

Ninety five candles representing each year of Mandela’s life were lit on the stage, “to remember the years he was on earth and more especially the contribution that he made to our country,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, the programme director and ANC deputy president.

Ahmed Kathrada, close friend to Mandela gave an emotional and heartfelt tribute to his friend as he recalled memories of their long friendship. Kathrada ended his speech by bidding farewell to his “elder brother” without whom he did not know which way to turn. Kathrada said Mandela has now left to join the “A-team” of the ANC, including Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and many others.


Friends and family bade an emotional farewell to the first democratic president of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

“He is no more in terms of this life but he is still our leader”

Malawi’s first woman president, Joyce Banda paid tribute to Mandela by saying he paved the way for people like herself to be where they are today. Banda spoke about practicing the lessons taught by Mandela instead of just speaking about them.

“Leadership is about falling in love with the people that you serve and the people falling in love with you. It’s about serving the people with selflessness, with sacrifice and with the need to put common good ahead of personal interest,” said Banda.

Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete reminded those in attendance and those watching across the world of the lengths and depths countries across the continent took to protect exiled leaders and assist in fighting the oppressive apartheid regime. Kikwete also highlighted that the South Africa’s grief was shared by Tanzania and the rest of the country.

One of the highlights at the service came when former Zambian president, Kenneth Kaunda took to the podium to speak, or rather ran to the podium to speak. He spoke candidly and honestly about the oppressive masterminds of the apartheid regime in South Africa. He urged South Africans to remain united by way of honouring Mandela’s legacy. “He is no more in terms of this life, but he is still our leader… Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” ended Kuanda.


Mourners at the Durban City Hall watched the live feed of the funeral on a big screen. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

About 4 500 guests were in attendance at the funeral service which played out over two hours starting at eight in the morning. Cyril Ramaphosa read a list including heads of state, former heads of state, traditional leaders, ANC leadership and others to indicate who was allowed to proceed to the burial, only 450 or so guests were allowed to proceed to the gravesite after the service. Those who stayed behind watched on big screens under the marquee where the service took place.

The hope was for Mandela to be laid to rest at exactly 12 noon, when the sun was at its highest and its shadow at its shortest, honouring a traditional belief that people of great stature must be laid to rest at this time. Unfortunately that did not materialise, with the casket only lowered into the ground closer to 1pm. This last moment was a private one for the Mandela family, that was not shown on television. Robala ka khutso Tata.


Wits University remembers Mandela at fireside chat


A picture of Nelson Mandela greeted guests to the Wits University memorial in honour of the late statesman on Thursday night. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana.

Wits University’s memorial service in honour of late former president Nelson Mandela was not a somber affair.

Nor was it bogged down by strict decorum. Instead, the vast and iconic Wits Great Hall auditorium was transformed into an intimate scene where a few of Madiba’s closest comrades sat together and shared fond memories of the great statesman.

Constitutional Court deputy chief justice and Wits chancellor Dikgang Moseneke facilitated what he termed a “fire-side conversation” with Advocate George Bizos, who defended Mandela at the 1959 Rivonia Trial, and liberation stalwart Ahmed Kathadra, a close confidant of Mandela on Robben Island.

Together, they took the 1000-strong audience, gathered inside and outside the Great Hall, on a leisurely stroll down memory lane, effortlessly evoking the mercurial spirit and humour of their former comrade and the nation’s father.

[pullquote align=”right”]”We have failed to live up to Mandela’s egalitarian vision”[/pullquote]

Moseneke, the younger of the three on the stage, told the audience his first encounter with Mandela was under less “illustrious” circumstances than those of Bizos and Kathadra.


Ahmad Kathrada, a contemporary and confidant of Nelson Mandela who spent many years imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. Photo: Wits Communications.

“It was on Robben Island … I used to be a runner for them, delivering newspapers to Mandela and other comrades … I used to cut out all the rubbish like advertisements and then smuggle them in.”

The smile, a somewhat despairing one, in Moseneke’s voice as he conducted proceedings radiated from his words and into the audience, as if the larger than life portrait of a half-smiling Mandela at the entrance of the hall had silently  lifted darkness of loss from the hearts of all of those present.


Advocate George Bizos who defended Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Treason Trials. Photo: Wits Communications.

Bizos and Kathrada took the turns to join in the mock irreverence.

“I met him in 1948 right here,” Bizos chuckled.  “He was always [dressed] in a suit and shiny shoes,” said Bizos, wondering out loud where Mandela could have possibly found the money to look so dapper.

Kathrada, in a low voice, told the audience he had met Mandela two years earlier, in 1946, before eventually being imprisoned on Robben Island with him.

The panel, however, did not shy from using Mandela’s passing to assess how far the country had come in its liberation.

“I get upset when people say nothing has changed,” Bizos chided. “Look at the panel here. Look at the student body.” Bizos said that you would not have kind of diversity during apartheid.

Commenting on the current leadership of the country, he lamented: “We have failed to live up to Mandela’s egalitarian vision… We have failed materially in many respects.”

Bringing an end to proceedings, Moseneke echoed Bizos’ disappointment saying the country had a long way to go. The optimistic tone, however, returned.

“There will be many good men to us through these tempestuous times … We are a nation of good people,” Moseneke said.


Watch a video of the memorial provided by Wits Communications: