Ahmed Kathrada’s legacy memorialised

The struggle veteran’s 93rd birthday sees the opening of an exhibition, chronicling both his his life and legacy.

Dozens gathered at the Constitution Hill in Braamfontein on Sunday, August 21, 2022 to honour anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada with a special collection of personal artefacts and imagery.

The Ahmed Kathrada foundation hosted esteemed guests at the Old Fort section of the historical monument in celebration of the life lived by “Kathy” or “Uncle Kathy”, as he was fondly known. Among attendees were Kathrada’s wife, Barbara Hogan. 

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela at the exhibition entrance, the Kathrada Foundation’s director, Neeshan Balton said: “[The exhibition] hopes to tell the story of the liberation struggle… it also hopes to get people to experience what living in prison on Robben Island would’ve been like.” He added that the exhibition shows that “freedom and any struggle to be achieved can’t be work overnight, it requires work over generations”.

“Seeing this exhibition in his honour not only gives the family hope but the world hope that his fight for freedom and non-racialism will continue,” said Yusuf Areignton-Kathrada.

From his favourite brown checkered blazer and black slip-ons to a addressed letter to former president Jacob Zuma, and a replica of his prison cell – the exhibition shows the highs and lows of Kathrada’s life.

Kathrada had served as a parliamentary counsellor to the late Nelson Mandela during his presidential tenure before his passing in 2017. The two had been in prison together at Robben Island before Kathrada was transferred to Pollsmoor prison from which he was released in 1990.

Reflecting on Kathrada’s life, speakers went as far as when he was 17 years old starting out as an activist against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act. Despite having held many leadership positions by the end of his tertiary life, “he knew that the struggle had not ended,” said Irfaan Mangera, one of the foundation’s activists. Mangera remembered Kathrada as an outspoken activist who was respected regardless of his young age among his fellow activists.

The South African Revenue Services commissioner, Edward Kieswetter reminisced on the day Kathrada died as he stood beside him in hospital. Kieswetter said, in his last days, Kathrada’s fight had lost spirit as the new generation leaders “were failing to honour the promise of our constitution, to heal the wounds of the past and to establish a democratic society”.

The permanent exhibition will be accessible to the public during normal trading hours.

FEATURED IMAGE: An attendant of the exhibition glaring at the wall detailing the struggle veteran’s last years’ on earth. Photo: Keamogetswe Matlala



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.