Kathrada comes to terms with Madiba’s death after 67 years of friendship

2013-12-06 15:51

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Struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada, who was friends with Madiba for 67 years, said he had accepted his old friend’s mortality when he visited him in hospital in Pretoria a few months ago.

“That is where I saw this man who I knew ... as a strong man ... I knew him as a boxer, I knew of him working with picks and shovels on Robben Island,” he told City Press at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg today.

“When I saw him, he was a shadow of himself. That was a moment which was full of emotion for me. But from then onwards, it was a question of when and how long he is going to be here.

“When yesterday we were told in advance that he was going to die, it did not come as a shock,” he said.

Kathrada, who first met Nelson Mandela in the 1940s when he (Kathrada) was still at high school and Madiba a university student, said his comrade’s abiding impact on him came from his ability to relate to him as an equal, even though he was older.

He said Mandela’s legacy was the nonracial and nonsexist democracy he helped to create, as well as his compassion for children. He said Mandela’s decision to have tea with the widow of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd was a strong example of his nonracialism.

“It was also consistent with the policy of reconciliation, of not harbouring feelings of revenge (and) anger. We learn from him the importance of nation building as a priority.”

Before the struggle veteran visited Madiba in Pretoria’s Heart hospital earlier this year, he had got a chance to see him in his rural home of Qunu. At that time he could still talk, but when he visited him in hospital his health had taken a turn for the worse.

Madiba could only communicate through gestures, which Kathrada could understand.

Kathrada said that after the death of fellow Robben Island prisoner and veteran struggle leader Walter Sisulu in 2003, he had come to regard Madiba as someone he could confide in.

“With his passing there’s a huge void in my life ... As old as I am, I needed somebody that I could confide in,” said Kathrada.

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