Ahmed Kathrada: South Africa’s anti-apartheid veteran dies

Anti-apartheid activist and close friend of former South African President Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, talks during a tribute to Mandela at Gandhi Hall, on December 8, 2013Image copyright

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Ahmed Kathrada spent more than 26 years in prison

Veteran South African anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada has died aged 87, his foundation says.

It says Mr Kathrada passed away peacefully in a Johannesburg hospital “after a short period of illness, following surgery to the brain”.

Along with Nelson Mandela, Mr Kathrada was among eight African National Congress activists sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.

They were convicted of trying to topple the white minority government.

Apartheid was a legalised system of discrimination against non-white people introduced in South Africa in 1948.

But laws that discriminated against non-whites existed prior to that.

Born into a family of Indian origin in 1929, Mr Kathrada, affectionately known as Kathy, was affected by those laws.

He was not only one of Mr Mandela’s closest friends, but also a human rights activist in his own right who had a long history in the struggle against discrimination and apartheid, says the BBC’s Milton Nkosi in Johannesburg.

Kathrada – a moral compass: Milton Nkosi, BBC News, Johannesburg

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The death of Ahmed Kathrada emphasises that a golden generation of anti-apartheid heroes has nearly gone.

Along with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, he was part of a group untainted by corruption, acting as a moral compass for the nation.

His generation literally gave up most of their adult lives to fight to liberate black people from the yoke of white minority rule.

“Uncle Kathy” stayed relevant to the struggle of the downtrodden till the end.

He was critical of the current administration, asking President Jacob Zuma to resign following a damning court judgement against the president.

His significance in the anti-apartheid struggle was also to deracialise it.

He proved that the fight was not just left for black Africans to wage on their own, and that is how I will remember him.

Mr Kathrada spent more than 26 years in prison, 18 of which were on the notorious Robben Island, where Mr Mandela was also jailed.

Under apartheid, even prisoners were treated differently depending on their racial origin: White prisoners got the most privileges, followed by those of Indian origin, while black people got the least.

Mr Kathadra refused to accept his privileges unless they were also extended to his black comrades.

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Ahmed Kathrada showed President Barack Obama around Robben Island in 2013

He joined the Young Communist League at the age of 12 and later became a member of the Transvaal Indian Congress.

He was released from prison in 1989, and after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, President Mandela persuaded Mr Kathrada to join him in government as his political adviser.

Mr Kathrada left parliament in 1999, but remained active in politics, criticising the recent direction of the ANC and calling on President Jacob Zuma to resign.

Ahmed Kathrada – Life in the struggle

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  • Born in 1929, the fourth of six children
  • Joined the Young Communist League aged 12
  • At 17, part of protests against a discriminatory law
  • Received suspended sentence in 1952 for organising anti-apartheid defiance campaign
  • Arrested in 1963 for being part of armed struggle and put on trial alongside Nelson Mandela
  • Released from prison in 1989
  • Joined the government as President Mandela’s adviser in 1994

Media captionWhat was apartheid? A 90-second look back at decades of injustice

Ahmed Kathrada: South Africa’s anti-apartheid veteran dies

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