Ahmed Kathrada, Anti-Apartheid Activist, Dies At 87 : The Two-Way South African freedom fighter Ahmed "Kathy" Kathrada spent decades in jail with Nelson Mandela. His best friend later in life was one of his prison guards.
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Anti-Apartheid Activist Ahmed Kathrada Dies At 87

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Anti-Apartheid Activist Ahmed Kathrada Dies At 87

Anti-Apartheid Activist Ahmed Kathrada Dies At 87

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are mourning the loss of a human rights champion. Ahmed Kathrada died today in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was 87 years old. Kathrada was a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement, and he spent decades in jail with Nelson Mandela. After the fall of apartheid, he kept fighting for human rights and really helped shape South Africa's future. Peter Granitz reports from Johannesburg.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Friends and strangers alike called Ahmed Kathrada by the nickname bestowed on him by his eighth grade teacher who was Afrikaans, a member of the white minority descended from Dutch colonists.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

AHMED KATHRADA: Afrikaans-speaking chap - and he could not pronounce my name - Kathrada - so he changed it to Kathy. And it stuck since 1944 (laughter).

GRANITZ: Kathy was a leader in the fledgling Indian rights movement in Johannesburg in the 1950s. He moved to Jo'burg when he was 8 to attend school because there was no school for Indians in his hometown of Schweizer-Reneke. His parents were immigrants from Gujarat. Indian families in rural South Africa were quite rare.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KATHARADA: So when I get arrested in the Free State in 1955, the head of the police says I've never seen an Indian in my life. I've got a cell for whites. I've got a cell for blacks. I've got no cell to put you (laughter).

GRANITZ: In an interview with NPR, Kathrada said he initially supported passive resistance, then eventually agreed with the African National Congress, the struggle movement turned political party to create an armed resistance to overthrow the apartheid government. When the ANC was banned in 1960, Kathrada went underground.

On July 11, 1963, he was arrested with other ANC leaders. It led to the Rivonia trial, the most famous case in South Africa's history. Kathrada with fellow treason defendants including Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu agreed from the outset not to appeal the verdict.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KATHARADA: They said prepare for the worst. They didn't use the word hang, but they said prepare for the very worst.

GRANITZ: Convicted and sentenced to life in prison, the 34-year-old Kathrada was sent to Robben Island, the infamous prison off Cape Town. He remained locked up until he was 60. He says he never lost faith. He would one day be freed. He and other ANC leaders helped Mandela draft his memoirs in prison and smuggle them outside. After his release, Kathrada preached forgiveness. Indeed, his best friend later in life was one of his prison guards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KATHARADA: Unlike other colonial countries where the colonists went home after freedom came, our oppressors were South Africans born and bred in South Africa, and not a few thousand, but a few million.

GRANITZ: When the ANC won control of South Africa in the first ever all race elections in 1994 and dismantled apartheid, Kathrada served as President Mandela's parliamentary adviser. He, like Mandela, stepped down after one term. Later, he actually moved back to Robben Island, this time to a private house where he lived for years as president of the Robben Island Museum. He enjoyed giving VIP tours of the prison turned museum to world leaders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KATHARADA: That's on my CV - professional, unpaid tour guide. (Laughter) I've been there over 300 times.

GRANITZ: Kathrada is survived by his longtime partner Barbara Hogan, herself a former political prisoner and government minister. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Johannesburg.

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