REMEMBERING THE ANTI-APARTHEID ICON: AHMED KATHRADA
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Makwaia Wa Kuhenga
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  • Zenani Mandela, daughter of Nelson Mandela

IT is close to a fortnight now after the sad news of the death of Ahmed Kathrada, one of the leading anti-apartheid icons in South Africa who fought alongside Nelson Mandela.

For those who may have missed the news in detail, let them follow the following: Johannesburg, South Africa – Flags were lowered at half-mast and mourners lined the streets Wednesday March 28 outside West park Cemetery and many embraced tearfully as the white hearse, escorted by a fleet of police motorcycles and bearing the coffin draped in the ruling African National Congress flag of green, yellow and black, made its way towards Heroes’ Acre.

This burial site for prominent South Africans is the final resting place for Ahmed Kathrada, stalwart of the anti-apartheid struggle, activist and former political prisoner along with Madiba Nelson Mandela. South Africa is a nation in mourning.

After three quarters of a century fighting for equality, freedom and dignity, Kathrada’s watch has stopped. Fondly knows as ‘Uncle Kathy’ Kathrada died in a hospital aged 87 due to complications following brain surgery to remove a blood clot.

He later developed pneumonia in both lungs and was kept under sedation. Despite this, there was a constant stream of comrades, family friends by his bedside as his condition deteriorated.

Born on August 21, 1929, to Indian immigrant parents in the small northwestern farming town of Schweizer–Reneke, also known as the City of Sunflowers, Kathrada was the fourth of six children. Owing to their Indian heritage and the apartheid policies of the time, Kathrada could not attend either the European or African schools in the area.

At the age of eight he was forced to move to Johannesburg to pursue an education. Hailed as belonging to the golden era of incorruptible freedom fighters – the selfless generation – he began his political career at the tender age of 12, handing out pamphlets for the Young Communist League of South Africa.

Kathrada was arrested for the first time in 1946 at the age of 17, along with 2,000 other peaceful protesters.

These passive resisters” were arrested for defying laws put in place by the apartheid governing discriminating against Indian citizens, and Kathrada spent one month in prison.

Two years later, with the banning of the African National Congress (ANC) Kathrada was placed under house arrest only to be jailed 18 times before being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 at the age of 34 following the infamous Rivonia Trial along with fellow revolutionaries – Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and seven others. He spent 26 years and three months in jail, serving 18 of those years on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town.

He was released in 1989 at the age of 60, just four months before Mandela. Now that Kathrada is gone, joining Mandela, only two former freedom fighters remain who were tried at Rivonia alongside Mandela.

These are Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni. Both attended Kathrada’s funeral. End news account. What you have just read is certainly remarkable and a milestone in the life of an individual. Just imagine yourself leading such a life, spending your entire youth in jail and being released when you are sixty! This is what makes the life of men like Kathrada and Mandela remarkable and worth honoring.

But most importantly, are the composition of the South African society and indeed invariably the composition of most populations in Africa. In a general sense, Africa is a rainbow continent – a continent whose dwellers are from different colors and races.

In South Africa as is the case with Tanzania; we have Tanzanians of Asian origin. As seen from the account of Kathrada’s elsewhere and in this perspective, Kathrada, a person of Asian origin in terms of skin pigmentation, fought apartheid as hard as did Madiba Nelson Mandela.

That he was of different skin pigmentation did not make Kathrada consider himself any better than his black African brethren. He joined the battle against apartheid and was thrown into jail like his black African brother Madiba Nelson Mandela.

In a wider perspective, in the case of this country, all Tanzanians, irrespective of their skin color pigmentation joined the battle against British colonialism, and that battle was joined either subtly or openly. This is evidenced by early governments after Uhuru (independence) which contained Tanzanians of Asian origin – a prominent name that immediately comes to mind being that of Minister Amir Habib Jamal and Alnoor Kassum.

That our foundation stone as a state is grounded as a rainbow nation is a fact that should continuously be sustained all the time as we have succeeded to mold all Tanzanians as one people irrespective of their diversity in tribes.

As the quotation at the launch of this perspective by the daughter of Nelson Mandela, Zenani - South Africans consider men of Asian origin, as Ahmed Kathrada, a relative is instructive to a rainbow Africa

.As evidence of this, Ahmed Kathrada was addressed as “uncle” by the rest of South Africans. Tanzanians have a leaf to pick from South Africa in flourishing our rainbow nation – above racial and ethnical grounds. This will be the best stance to carry forward in memory and tribute to Ahmed Kathrada, the South African anti-apartheid icon.

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