Kathrada as important as Madiba – former Robben Islander

2017-03-28 21:22
Picture of struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada at the Nelson Mandela Gateway in the V&A Waterfront. (James de Villiers, News24)

Picture of struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada at the Nelson Mandela Gateway in the V&A Waterfront. (James de Villiers, News24)

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Cape Town – Former Robben Island prisoner and Robben Island Museum council member Luyanda Mpahlwa described the death of struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada as a "dark hour" for South Africa.

"He was as important as Madiba. We regard his death with the same gravity as that of Nelson Mandela," Mpahlwa said.

"It’s a dark hour for our country, as we mourn his passing noting the influence he has had on Robben Island itself, but also the role that he played towards achieving freedom, democracy and peace in South Africa."

Mpahlwa, 58, was addressing journalists at the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island at the V&A Waterfront on Tuesday afternoon, following the death of Kathrada on Tuesday morning. Kathrada was 87.

"I read a tweet this morning, now that everybody is tweeting, where someone quoted him saying that, when Nelson Mandela, died comrade Kathrada felt that he left him alone, and I think this tweet went on to say that as a country we definitely feel alone now that he has departed," Mpahlwa said.

'Missed children'

Kathrada spent 18 years on Robben Island after being arrested on Liliesleaf Farm in Johannesburg, from where Umkhonto we Sizwe conducted military operations.

"I remember in one of the articles that [he is] quoted… where he was mentioning that his cell had an advantage [over Madiba’s] because it was looking outside," Mpahlwa said.

Nelson Mandela’s cell had a window that looked into the prison court yard.

"He said he used to enjoy seeing the warders taking their children to school through his window, because one of the things that prisoners missed were children," Mpahlwa said.

"Even the wardens' children, actually, brought that aspect to him."

Kathrada was the first chairperson of the Robben Island Museum when it was established in 1994.

"[He] was tasked with establishing the Robben Island Museum to recognise and preserve the social memory of all ex-political prisoners who had served their sentences at Robben Island," Mpahlwa said.

'A struggle giant'

Mpahlwa said Kathrada was well known for personally conducting more than 300 island tours, including tours for USA presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

"There are various layers around this island, but I think where he took the most [people] was the two quarries, the lime stone quarry and the blue stone quarry, because those symbolise the hardship on Robben Island," Mpahlwa said.

Mpahlwa said the museum was planning a commemorative book, where visitors could leave messages for Kathrada.

"[We] would like to join the nation and the rest of the world in mourning the passing of this struggle icon, a struggle giant who until his death stood for what he believed in," he said.

Mpahlwa was 22 when he was sent to Robben Island in 1982. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment for refusing to testify as a state witness.


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