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UWC honours Ahmed Kathrada - A Humble Hero

Honouring Uncle Kathy: A humble hero for a troubled nation

The University of the Western Cape mourns the death of icon and Apartheid struggle activist Ahmed Kathrada - a humble hero whose sacrifices and exemplary conduct  benefited us all.

The University of the Western Cape mourns the death of icon and Apartheid struggle activist Ahmed Kathrada - who passed away in the early hours of this morning.

The loss of Ahmed Kathrada (or Uncle Kathy, as he was affectionately known) is a loss for all South Africans, said UWC’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius

“We enjoy our freedom today because of his sacrifices, and those of extraordinary men and women like him,” he said. “As an activist who fought against an oppressive government, a believer in the power of education, and a champion of speaking truth to power, we honour the example he set throughout his life.”

Ahmed Mohamed "Kathy" Kathrada was born on 21 August 1929, to Indian immigrant parents in Schweizer Reneke, a small town in Western Transvaal (now North West Province). Kathrada’s political career began at the age of 17, and he fought for a free South Africa for all for decades, enduring numerous arrests before the (in)famous Rivonia Trial, where he was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labour on Robben Island alongside former President Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Denis Goldberg, and others. 

After more than 26 years in prison (during which he pursued his academic studies, obtaining four degrees), he emerged to play a leading role in South Africa’s new democratic government, and to champion truth, transformation and a better understanding of history to build a brighter future.

He was showered with awards and honorary doctorates from institutions in South Africa and beyond, but never lost the sense of humility and faith in humanity that had guided him through the struggle years.

Looking back to look forward

Uncle Kathy became chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council, helping to preserve and share the memory of what had happened on the island and on the mainland, and also published books including Letters from Robben Island‚ Memoirs and A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada's Notebook from Robben Island, and (collaborating with  former Wits University academic Tim Couzens) A Simple Freedom: The Strong Mind of Robben Island Prisoner‚ No. 468/64.

UWC is particularly honoured to have the privilege of hosting our Kathrada Collection, through the Mayibuye Archives, a vast collection of historical documents and items that tell the story of this icon’s life and beliefs.  

“In my constant interaction with young people I had to make the unfortunate observation that one of our biggest enemies today is ignorance,” Kathrada said in a speech delivered at UWC’s Centre for Humanities Research when he became a Mayibuye Fellow. “The challenge facing us is, how to combat ignorance.”

The Collection includes documents generated during Kathrada’s prison years and afterwards. Examples of prison documents include correspondence from and to prison authorities, friends, families and colleagues, as well as study materials, assignments, notebooks and lists – hundreds of lists.

In honour of this South African hero, the UWC  community will fly the South African and University flags at half-mast for this week.

The University’s prayers and thoughts go out to Kathrada’s wife, Barbara Hogan, and to the Kathrada family and Kathrada Foundation.

The funeral will take place on Wednesday 29 March 2017, commencing at 10am at the Westpark Cemetery, Beyers Naude Drive, Johannesburg. Members of the public are welcome to attend the funeral ceremony.