We have to give full picture - Kathrada on Robben Island tour

2015-09-23 18:55
Ahmed Kathrada with ANC Western Cape secretary Faiez Jacobs (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Ahmed Kathrada with ANC Western Cape secretary Faiez Jacobs (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Cape Town - Former political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada was moved by the reactions of veterans as he gave them a personal tour of Robben Island in Cape Town on Wednesday.

“I have been to the island over 300 times. It has become routine, but one still reacts when people react,” the 86-year-old anti-apartheid veteran told News24 afterwards.

Kathrada spent 26 years in prison, 18 of which were on the island.

The trip, ahead of Heritage Day on Thursday, was the result of a Facebook campaign by Cape Town resident Lynn Abrahams who had asked communities to sponsor a veteran three weeks ago.

Kathrada took a well-deserved rest at a nearby restaurant with the group of 24 veterans, aged between 60 and 105 years.

Lots of questions

The group travelled by ferry to the island and walked around before returning for a seafood lunch.

Kathrada said this was the first time he had given a tour to such a large group, but it had been a wonderful experience.

“They were so enthusiastic, because most of them had never been to the island before. They couldn’t stop asking questions like: ‘When did you get up? What did you eat?’”

He explained to the veterans there were different foods and clothing for prisoners of different races.

“We tried to make it a happy tour. Unfortunately, when we relate something, it’s not happy and people react when you tell them about apartheid in prison. Of course, we have to give the full picture.”

“Mandela used to wear short trousers, I wore long trousers. People don’t know.”


105-year-old Nora de Kock, who was part of the tour to Robben Island. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Speaking softly while taking in his surroundings, Kathrada said the biggest lesson he had learnt in prison was being open to different circumstances.

“In every situation, one has to adjust. Your individuality is the background and you adjust to the wider society.”

Not retiring anytime soon

He believed the country had progressed, but challenges still lay ahead.

“There is still hunger; there is still unemployment; there is still poverty, but in 20 years you can’t solve every problem.”

Kathrada had a gleam in his eye as he shared he remained an active man and took part in an 8km walk challenge every year.

“I have no plans to retire soon,” he chuckled.

Abrahams said the aim of the initiative was to "thank them for their selfless leadership and sacrifices over the years".

The veterans came from various parts of Cape Town.

Read more on:    ahmed kathrada  |  cape town

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