Reflections about a gentle soul

2017-03-28 13:55
Ahmed Kathrada (Netwerk24)

Ahmed Kathrada (Netwerk24)

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Essop Pahad encourages celebration of Kathrada's life

2017-03-28 13:02

Fond memories of Ahmed Kathrada were shared by former Minister in the Presidency outside the Kathrada home in Killarney. WATCH

During the year in which Kathy Kathrada and I sat down to talk about his life and wisdom, I asked him about his emotions.

'Do you cry much, Kathy?'

'In my case, I suppose in most cases, there is crying and there is eyes full of tears," he replied. "Eyes full of tears are different to crying. Eyes full of tears come quite often."

Today my eyes are full of tears. My heart is crying.

Hamba Kahle my brother, my bhai. My friend. Until we meet again.

(Extract from Conversations with a Gentle Soul, a book co-authored by Ahmed Kathrada and Sahm Venter)

Yvonne Chaka Chaka, South Africa’s own ‘Princess of Africa’, glides up to Kathy in the front row of a lecture theatre in Johannesburg. It is the end of a two-day conference on how journalists write about race. Kathy has attended large slices of each day. Chaka Chaka, who sang and spoke on the opening day, is about to sing to close the proceedings. Microphone in hand, she looks right at him and thanks him for giving her back her dignity. She compliments him repeatedly and implores him not to ‘go’ while South Africa still needs him.

He looks in her direction with the ghost of a smile as she lays one compliment on top of another. His expression is indecipherable.

While she begs him to stay I wonder if he is thinking about his beloved comrades who have indeed left us. He has spoken of how often he reflects on his fellow travellers who are no more.

They have gone but Kathy is still with us on a journey in a new era. A time in which the youth has begun to criticise his generation for not transforming the country completely. He is painfully aware of the huge economic inequalities running like fresh wounds throughout the land. It hurts him to see children who are living in poverty, who go to sleep with empty stomachs. Whose futures promise to be not much more than daily struggles.

But he is at peace with the fact that he did what he was able to do in his lifetime. The future belongs now to those who have the energy to make the changes he knows are necessary.

Kathy fought for democracy. He fought for equality. He fought against huge odds to turn the country from a racist state into a bastion of democracy. He gave his own freedom to this fight and has survived to live in a world in which more victories need to be won. At the age of eighty-seven he is still making waves by adding his voice to issues he feels are important to our democracy.

My conversations with Kathy over a year have painted a picture of a human being who has survived by carving and filing and polishing life down to its most basic essentials. The totem qualities of patience, determination, dignity, humour and love.

The humility with which Kathy carries himself is unusual in these times. His qualities are not rare, just rarely practised. Kathy’s iron will and his insistence on dignity and integrity saw him through the horrors of the past. Intact. This is what is remarkable about him. How he chose to face up to exceptional conditions and to survive whole.

He clung onto his own humanity, his integrity and his belief that apartheid would be vanquished in his lifetime.

As Kathy says, Nelson Mandela did not give him lessons, rather Kathy learned from Madiba by watching him in action and listening to him. Like him, Kathy also does not give lessons. He will not tell you what to do or how to live your life.

He will tell you what he wishes for. And high up on his wish list is for South Africa to triumph over poverty and inequality. To realise basic rights and to achieve the freedom to live fully and without fear in our democracy.

There is a song that we sing in South Africa to honour our heroes. In this song, only the name of the person you are singing about changes to identify who you are praising. The refrain remains the same.

We sing for Kathy today: Ahmed Kathrada Ahmed Kathrada Akekho ofanana ye, there is no one like you.

- Sahm Venter is a senior researcher at the Nelson Mandela Foundation and personal friend of Kathrada.

Read more on:    ahmed kathrada

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