Uncle Kathy's death ends an emotional Human Rights Month

Ahmed Kathrada (Mlungisi Louw, Netwerk24)
Ahmed Kathrada (Mlungisi Louw, Netwerk24)

This has been an emotional Human Rights Month in South Africa. During the height of celebrating our young democracy, we also lost a hero of the struggle for liberation.

We learnt with heavy hearts of the passing of Ahmed Kathrada, or “Uncle Kathy” as he was affectionately known, an icon for the realisation of non-racialism and equal human rights for all people living in South Africa.

Some 21 years ago, something remarkable occurred. So much so that it changed South Africa forever. On 4 December 1996 the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa was approved by the Constitutional Court. This was the turning point in the history of the struggle for democracy in our country that people like Kathrada and others had fought for.

For the first time in SA’s history everyone had fundamental human rights that affirmed the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. 

Human Rights Month is a reminder to all of us about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of these rights and a call to collectively stand for anti-racism.

The month of March also commemorates the Sharpeville massacre of 21 March 1960 and millions of people from all spheres of society who fought to bridge the gap between a past where our people was deeply divided by racialism, suffering and gross injustice, and a future founded on democratic rights.

As Human Rights Month comes to a close it is therefore bittersweet giving a final salute to Uncle Kathy who selflessly devoted his entire life to the fight against racism and inequality.

While reading through a selection of speeches, writings and interviews, I came across these ten powerful thoughts by Ahmed Kathrada that I believe every South African should reflect on. 

To me, these are a reminder that preservation of our democracy is not guaranteed and that we have a responsibility towards each other to uphold its values.

1. “Freedom did not fall from heaven. It was fought for at great cost and sacrifice. And unless young people know how freedom came, they cannot be held responsible for actions and utterances that are inconsistent with the history of the freedom struggle.”

2. “As time goes on and society’s demographics change, we might arrive at a point where racial classifications become meaningless and disappear, not through some piece of legislation but through their complete lack of relevance to individual, group and national identity. I look forward to that day.”

3. “I would still insist that meeting the modern challenges of poverty, hunger, homelessness and so on requires an approach that has a non-racial outlook embedded within it.”

4. “We dare not for a moment forget that there is no dignity in poverty, hunger, unemployment, homelessness, schools without textbooks and much more.”

5. “Children don’t know color. They quarrel, they laugh, they play. They don’t fight each other because of color. That’s why our concentration has to be at the school level, at the childhood level.”

6. “Most of all you symbolise, and always will, collective leadership, reconciliation, unity, forgiveness, nation-building and a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.” - Ahmed Kathrada in a tribute to Nelson Mandela

7. “Dear Comrade President, don’t you think your continued stay as President will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country?” – Ahmed Kathrada’s letter to President Zuma on March 31, 2016

8. “It is the youth whom we must educate to prevent them from repeating the foolishness of their parents. It is also in our schools that children learn to be racists. We can and must make our schools laboratories of anti-racism.”

9. “While we will not forget the brutalities of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardships and suffering. We want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil, a triumph of the wisdom and largeness of spirit against the small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness, a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.”

10. “You have to break down the ignorance among people. Then only do people realize that all human beings are that same.”

- Ulrich Janse van Vuuren is a humanitarian, anthropologist, social and environmental activist with a passion for people and nature. Proudly South African, he lives in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.

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