A Conversation with Ahmed Kathrada
The history of South Africa's struggle for freedom from racial segregation and oppression would be incomplete without the story of Ahmed Kathrada.
Born in 1929 to Indian migrants, Kathrada gravitated toward the antiapartheid movement at age 12. In his teens, as a member of the African National Congress, a nonviolent civil rights group, he participated in peace rallies alongside Nelson Mandela, the group's leader. But on March 21, 1960, a turning point occurred when police opened fire on a peaceful antiapartheid rally in the Sharpeville township, leaving 69 people dead and 180 injured. After the Sharpeville massacre, the ANC started questioning its nonviolent tactics. In 1961, the ANC formed an armed wing, mobilizing attacks against white establishments. A year later, both Mandela and Kathrada were arrested and were later among those sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, off Cape Town.
Upon his release in 1989, at age 60, Kathrada entered a new South Africa. In 1990, South African president F.W. de Klerk released Mandela and lifted the ban on apartheid. In 1991, Mandela became ANC president, and the once banned group became the predominant political party. In the country's first democratic elections in 1994, Mandela was elected as the country's first black president. And when forming his cabinet that year, Mandela appointed Kathrada as his presidential adviser.
In this episode of Basic Black, hosted by Howard Manly, Kathrada shares events highlighted in his 2004 autobiography, Memoirs, as well as his current mission to educate the public about human rights and South Africa's liberation movement as chair of the Robben Island Museum Council.