Ahmed Kathrada: South African Hero of Peace

Mallika Chopra

Posted Oct 30, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Ahmed Kathrada: South African Hero of Peace

by Mallika Chopra

In June 1964, Ahmed Kathrada, along with Nelson Mandela, was sentenced to life in prison during the famed Rivonia Trial for sabotage against the South African government.  He was the only Indian among the famed Rivonia 7 convicted.  Kathrada is a major figure in the history and shaping of the new South Africa.  On Wednesday night, I had the honor and privilage of co-hosting a reception to launch Ahmed Kathrada’s new book, Memoirs.

It was the second time I met Mr. Kathrada, a living hero who to me represents truth, justice, forgiveness and the hope that peace and reconciliation is a possibility.

My first encounter with him was during a visit to South Africa several years ago when Mr. Kathrada was gracious enough to host several of my classmates from Business School and me to Robben Island.  This event is one of the most memorable ones in my life.  “Kathy”, as he is referred to, took us through the prison, telling us about his daily life with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and the many other heros of the anti-apartheid movement.  It was a rivoting day to hear about the torture, the political planning,  the games, the thrills, the fight for basic rights, and the deaths that they faced over two decades in prison.  He told us about going over twenty years and not seeing children or hearing their laughter.

And most remarkable to me was his sentiment of forgiveness.  He writes in Memoirs:

While we will not forget the brutalities of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering.  We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil; a triumph of the wisdom and largeness of spiritu against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.

Nelson Mandela has written about Kathrada saying:

…He is a person of strong opinion and sharp insight.  But he also has great humor and humanity.  These qualities shine through his letters as they illuminate the ways in which we rose to the challenge facing every prisoner:  how to survive prison intact…to emerge from prison undiminished. 

And, Archbiship Desmond Tutu adds:

We are richly blessed in South Africa.  People like Kathy have helped because of their lack of bitterness, their magnanimity, and generosity of spirit, and willingness to forgive, even after so much suffering.  That is why we avoided revenge.

At the book party, Sydney Poitier introduced Ahmed Kathrada.  Mr. Poitier spoke about 11 weeks he spent shooting a movie in South Africa in the 60’s.  He said coming from the West, he thought he new what racism was.  But that 11 weeks in South Africa was the most hellish in his life.  In his talk, Mr. Kathrada pointed out that he and many of his comrades were considered terrorists, and that the US government, in particular, was one of the few countries that continued relations with apartheid South Africa.  He pointed out that things began to change when citizens around the world (and particulary in America) NOT their governments, began to say that apartheid was unacceptable. 

At Intentblog, we are fortunate to have many people who are dedicated to conflict resolution and seeking a vision of peace.  I would encourage you to read Ahmed Kathrada’s Memoirs.  It is an inspirational book that gives hope that in a world of oppression and violence, forgiveness, compassion and change is truly possible.

Source:  Intent blog