Tag Archives: South Africa

Nelson Mandela Prepared to Die 52 Years Ago

I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities.-- Nelson Mandela, April 20, 1964

On April 20, 1964, Nelson Mandela gave his famous, three-hour “I Am Prepared to Die” speech at the Rivonia Trial in South Africa. After being imprisoned for five years and a life sentence to follow (of which he only served 27 years), Mandela’s speech was the last stand to a powerful movement that would change South African civil rights forever. Among him on trial were Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg, who both have specific memories of Mandela’s positive influence.

Ahmed Kathrada remembers smuggling Mandela’s autobiography into prison (excerpted from A Simple Freedom: The Strong Mind of Robben Island Prisoner No. 468/64):

“Once again, there’s regulations. Regulations allowed you to buy soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, blades. These were absolute necessities. In my case, whenever I got a chance I ordered things with nothing specific in mind – just with the idea that some day we might need to use them. So I ordered parchment, glue, mapping pens, rice paper. And, when we had to smuggle out the Mandela biography, the parchment was used to cover the makeshift album—constructed by Laloo Chiba—the glue was used to seal it and the mapping pens were used by Chiba and another ‘B’ section comrade Mac Maharaj to transcribe Madiba’s manuscript in tiny handwriting on to rice paper. The album containing large maps was so expertly assembled that it looked as if it was factory-made. Mac Maharaj was to be released in 1976; his task was to take out the album, which he did easily and without causing any suspicion. As planned, he sent it to London, where it eventually became the bestseller Long Walk to Freedom.”

Denis Goldberg remembers the sentencing that followed the trial a couple months later (excerpted from A Life for Freedom: The Mission to End Racial Injustice in South Africa):

“On 12 June 1964, the day of sentence, the judge read a very short statement saying that he was not imposing the ultimate sentence (death), which would be appropriate in a case that was tantamount to high treason, but as we were charged under the Sabotage Act, he could allow some leniency: the sentence was life imprisonment on each of the charges on which we were found guilty. As he spoke the faces of my comrades lit up in the most wonderful smiles of relief and joy, and we laughed out loud. I was overjoyed to live, even though it would be life behind bars. I was only thirty-one years old and I did not believe that my life was over.”

For more information on the trial and captivity, check out A Simple Freedom and A Life for Freedom:



A Tribute to Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013


It’s hard to put together the words to commemorate the life and actions of a man who changed the world like Nelson Mandela did. So we’d like to use the words of one of his oldest friends, Ahmed Kathrada, who was tried with and served 26 years in prison with Mandela as a consequence of their fight against apartheid. The following tribute, written by Kathrada, originally appeared in the Daily Maverick.

Ahmed Kathrada: Farewell my elder brother

Madala, as you light-heartedly started calling me some years ago, it both grieves me and inspires me to write this to you now, with the hour of your death still a fresh wound in our peoples’ hearts.

We have known each other for 67 years, and I never imagined I’d be witness to the unavoidable and traumatic reality of your passing.

Your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality and justice continually served as a source of enormous strength to me and so many millions of people around the world.

Your smile, which lingers still, was always from the heart, never forced, and the great joy you took in the world around you, especially in children, was unmistakable. Most of all, you symbolise, and always will, collective leadership, reconciliation, unity, forgiveness, nation-building and a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.

Your self-confidence and absence of pettiness stands out still and is epitomised in your attitude towards opposition parties; they are not enemies but political rivals.

I had the enviable privilege of being alive and walking the earth with you through the bad times and the good. It has been a long walk, with many challenges that at times seemed insurmountable. And yet we never faltered, and the strength of leaders like you and Walter always shone a light on the path and kept our destination and our people’s future in view.

I feel bereft and lonely. To whom do I turn for solace, comfort, and advice?

While we may be drowned in sorrow and grief, we must be proud and grateful that after the long walk paved with obstacles and suffering, we salute you as a fighter for freedom to the end.

Farewell my elder brother, my mentor, my leader. With all the energy and determination at our command, we pledge to join the people of South Africa and the world to perpetuate the ideals and values for which you have devoted your life.

-Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Kathrada’s memoir of his life and work against apartheid at the side of his friend, Nelson Mandela, is published by the University Press of Kentucky.


Ahmed Kathrada Visits Lexington Catholic High School

Photo taken by Mark Cornelison, via University of Kentucky College of Arts & Sciences

On April 15th, 2011, Ahmed Kathrada spoke at Lexington Catholic High School, sharing his experiences as former Special Advisor to South African President Nelson Mandela and  his 26 year imprisonment as a result of the infamous the Rivonia Trial. Students, faculty, and community members assembled in Lexington Catholic gymnasium, filling about 2,000 seats.

The students launched their own project this year titled ConGo: A Call for Change, which focuses on global awareness of the uncertain political situation in the African nation. In preparation of Kathrada’s visit, all students read No Bread for Mandela: Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, Prisoner No. 468/64 and were excited to host a speaker who embodied social justice and human dignity.

Mr. Kathrada also became a member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels at the event.

View more photos at the University of Kentucky College of Arts & Science’s Facebook Page, here.

Anti-Apartheid Activist and former South African Political Prisoner visits Kentucky

On Wednesday, April 13th, at an academic convocation at the Singletary Center for the Arts at the University of Kentucky Ahmed Kathrada, a former Special Advisor to South African President Nelson Mandela and a 26 year political prisoner tried at the infamous Rivonai Trial, received the Honorary Doctorate of Letters from university president Lee Todd and provost Kumble Subaswamy. His honorary doctorate recognizes the bond of friendship between Kentucky and South Africa, and reminds us of that connection though we are of Different Lands, yet share Common Ground.

Earlier that day, Mr. Kathrada was present to premiere the traveling exhibit Ahmed ‘Kathy’ Kathrada: A South African Activist for Non-Racialism and Democracy at Lafferty Hall. The exhibit makes its U.S. debut at the University of Kentucky and displays photographs, writings, and a replica of his prison cell on Robben Island where he was held as a political prisoner. View the full program here.

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Available now from the University Press of Kentucky:

When Ahmed Kathrada was released from prison in 1989 together with Walter Sisulu and Raymond Mhlaba after serving twenty-six years of a life sentence, more than 5,000 people came to Soweto to give him and his colleagues a hero’s welcome. A veteran of the anti-apartheid movement who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela and other African leaders, Kathrada had been one of the famous Rivonia trial defendants and incarcerated as a political prisoner on Robben Island and at Pollsmoor prison.

No Bread for Mandela is the gripping story of Kathrada’s lifelong battle for justice in South Africa. At age seventeen, Kathrada left school to become a youth organizer for the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council and assisted with uniting various opposition groups under the leadership of the African National Congress. Arrested in 1963 at the age of thirty-four on charges of sabotage and conspiracy against the South African government, Kathrada was sentenced to life in prison. Although he, Nelson Mandela, and other African prisoners were serving the same sentence, under prison regulations of the apartheid regime, Kathrada, who is of Indian descent, received better treatment. Outraged at the inequities of apartheid and unwilling to concede defeat even in prison, Kathrada and his fellow prisoners continued the struggle for equality and justice. In prison, the most extreme form of protest and struggle was hunger strikes. Kathrada also was instrumental in organizing a covert communication network between prisoners in different sections of the prison and with the outside world.

This riveting memoir, spanning the history of modern South Africa, sheds new light on the struggle against apartheid. No Bread for Mandela is the moving and insightful account of a man who served among a loyal cadre of the African National Congress and helped in shaping his country’s history. Kathrada’s life is an inspiration and a model for everyone who seeks peace, justice, and reconciliation.

Ahmed Kathrada was born in South Africa in 1929. After his release from prison in 1989, he was elected as a member of parliament and served as parliamentary counsellor in to President Mandela. In 1994, he was elected chairperson of the Robben Island Council. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“Ahmed Kathrada has been so much part of my life over such a long period that it is inconceivable that I could allow him to write his memoirs without me contributing something. Our stories have become so interwoven that the telling of one without the voice of the other being heard somewhere would have led to an incomplete narration.”—Nelson Mandela

“Delightful and often amusing anecdotes of the life of a very self-effacing and yet deeply committed freedom fighter.”—Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“A book of questions and answers. . . . When humanity leaves the room, what do you do if you’re left inside? The extraordinary strength and almost inconceivable grace in these pages are as mind-blowing as the justice and peace Ahmed Kathrada helped bring about.”—Bono

No Bread for Mandela: Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada

No Bread for Mandela: Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada

Coming Spring 2011:

The gripping and moving story of one of South Africa’s greatest citizens.
Sentenced to life in prison on the infamous Robben Island along with anti-apartheid movement members Walter Sisulu, J.B. Marks, and Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada’s memoir reveals remarkable resilience and hope during his nation’s struggle for peace, justice, and reconciliation.

Artists for a New South Africa, a nonprofit organization working in the U.S. and South Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, assist children orphaned by the disease, advance human and civil rights, educate and empower youth, and build bonds between  nations through arts, culture, and the pursuit of social justice, recently posted this video featurette on Kathrada, honoring him for his extraordinary activism.

For Additional Info, see the jump:

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