Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada Timeline: 1929 - 2017

1919
Mohamed Kathrada and his wife Hawa, immigrants from India, arrive in Schweizer Reneke, a small town in the Western Transvaal (now Gauteng), where they open a small shop. 
1929
21 August, Ahmed Mohamed "Kathy" Kathrada is born to Mohamed Kathrada and his wife Hawa, in Schweizer Reneke, .  He is the fourth of six children. Ironically, the midwife who delivered Kathrada, was an Afrikaner midwife known as Ouma Oosthuizen.
1938
January, At the age of eight, the young Kathrada goes to Johannesburg to stay with his paternal aunt, Fatima, at Nursery Road, Fordsburg. He attends the Newtown Indian Primary School.
1940s
Kathrada meets Yusuf Dadoo, I.C. Meer, Yusuf and Molvi Cachalia and J.N. Singh, Kathrada is involved in the anti-war (World War II) campaign of the Non-European United Front.
Kathrada helps to distribute Dadoo’s court statement when he is arrested. Dadoo is to become Kathrada’s mentor, comrade and friend.
Kathrada and a few school friends ran fruit and vegetable stalls set up by the Nationalist Group of the TIC against discriminatory licensing laws in Johannesburg.  Here they sold their produce without a licence for a few months until the campaign petered out.
1941
At the age of 12, Kathrada joins the Young Communist League of South Africa.  It is at the Young Communist League’s meetings that he meets Ruth First, Duma Nokwe, Harold Wolpe, Paul Joseph and many other leading Communists.  Kathrada, by now a student in Standard 7 (Grade 9), together with other young boys, assist in collecting money and goods for the Bengal Famine Relief Fund.  It is here that he meets Ismail Meer, a student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Kathrada is elected to the Young Communist League’s Johannesburg District Committee at the age of 14. He is appointed editor of the school publication, The Historian.  The Principal of the school halted the distribution of the very first issue due to its ‘political content’
1944
His Standard 8 (Grade 10) Science and Mathematics teacher, a Mr du Preez, an Afrikaner, gives him the nickname ‘Kathy’
Mid 1940s
Kathrada is admitted into the Communist Party of South Africa on probation.  He assists with the sale of the Guardian newspaper and distribution of Party literature and attends Party meetings and engages in other Party activities.

In 2002, the Palace of Justice’s entire interior was renovated, except for the holdingcells below ground level. Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation

1945
When Kathrada is in Standard Nine (Grade 11), he moves into his own flat with two school friends, Abe Gani and Ahmed ‘Dos’ Kola.
1945 -1946
Kathrada is a founding member of the Transvaal Indian Volunteer Corps and that of its successor, the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress. He is later elected as its chair.
1946
At the age of 17, he leaves school in his matriculation year to work full-time for the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council under the mentorship of I.C. Meer. The South African Indian Congress (SAIC) launches the Passive Resistance Movement against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act, which is commonly referred to as the "Ghetto Act". This Act seeks to give Indians limited political representation and defines the areas where Indians can live, trade and own land. Kathrada is one of the 2 000 volunteers imprisoned in that campaign and serves a month in a Durban jail along with other resisters such as Monty Naicker, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, Dr Goonam, George Singh, Mrs Cissie Gool, M D Naidoo and others. This is his first jail sentence for civil disobedience.
1947
January, Kathrada is released from prison in Durban.
1947
Kathrada moves into I.C. Meer's flat, No. 13 Kholvad House, Market Street, Johannesburg He is elected to attend the first World Youth Festival, in Prague. A hit-and-run accident prevents Kathrada from travelling overseas.
1950
The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) is dissolved following the passing of the Suppression of Communism Act,
In preparation for Freedom Day on 1 May, a small group made up of Faried Adams, Mosey Moolla, Herbie Pillay, Solly Esakjee, Babla Saloojee and Kathrada form the Picasso Club.  Picasso Club members specialized in painting slogans on walls, putting up posters and distributing leaflets.
In Commissioner Street, Johannesburg, Kathrada has his first and only real argument with Nelson Mandela. The argument revolved around preparations for the strike on Freedom Day with Mandela as an ANC Youth League member and Kathrada as a Communist Party member.
Soon after, at a meeting of the ANC and the Executives of the SAIC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) to discuss the killing of 19 people shot by the police following a general strike on Freedom, the issue is amicably resolved.

A few days after their release from prison, Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi and Walter Sisulu, address a press conference in Le. Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation

1951
Kathrada enrols as student at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) where one of his fellow students is Ismail Mohamed, who would later become the Chief Justice in a democratic South Africa. He joins the Students Liberation Association, which he represents at the 1951 Congress of the International Union of Students in Warsaw.
August , As chairperson of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress, Kathrada attends the Third World Youth Festival in Berlin.  He is elected leader of the large multi-racial South African delegation.  He remains overseas to attend a Congress of the International Union Students in Warsaw, Poland. 
During this period, he visits the concentration camps at Auschwitz, which impress upon him the urgent need to eradicate racism in South Africa.  He travels to Budapest and works at the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth where he plans to stay for three years.  During his stay in Budapest, Kathrada sends a great deal of Communist literature to Mandela.
1952
May, Kathrada returns to South Africa from Budapest via Prague and London on the Carnavon Castle.  When the ship docks, the Security Police enter his cabin and confiscate his passport
1952
Kathrada helps organize the 'Campaign of Defiance against Unjust laws', launched jointly by the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress. The Defiance Campaign targets six unjust apartheid laws, amongst them being the Pass Laws, stock limitation regulations, the Group Areas Act, the separate representation of Voters Act, the Suppression of Communism Act and the Bantu Authorities Act.
The Government is called upon to repeal these laws by 29 February 1952. Failing this, the ANC and the SAIC are to launch a joint campaign of Defiance.
Kathrada is one of the accused in the trial of twenty leaders of Defiance Campaign.  All of the accused are found guilty of contravening the Suppression of Communism Act and are sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour, which is suspended for three years.
Kathrada is elected as the Secretary of the Youth Action Committee of the ANC Youth League and Indian Youth Congress. He is also elected to the Executive of World Federation of Democratic Youth in absentia. Events at prevent him from attending a single meeting of this organization.
At a rally in Johannesburg to mark the 36th anniversary of the Russian revolution, Kathrada announces that Walter Sisulu and his colleagues are in Moscow celebrating the November 7 anniversary.  Kathrada had clandestinely arranged for Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe to fly out of the country to Europe on the only airline that was prepared to take them, El Al
Kathrada joins the reconstituted Communist Party, operating from underground.
Kathrada is charged with being in the Eastern Cape town of Uitenhage without a permit. He is accompanied by Essop Jassat.  The pair represents the South African Youth Congress at a joint meeting of the executives of the Indian Youth Congress and the ANC Youth League. The meeting ends with the formation of the Joint Youth Action Committee with Kathrada being elected as Secretary and Duma Nokwe as President.  Kathrada is responsible for coordinating the activities of the Youth wings of the Indian and African Congresses.
Kathrada hurriedly whispers to Jassat to tell the police that he is Malay, since Malays do not require a permit to travel to the Eastern Cape. Jassat got off but Kathrada is subsequently summoned to court for being in the Cape without a permit.  He is found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment, suspended for two years and his name is placed on a blacklist with no further prospect of travel.
1954 – 1956
Kathrada is active in organising the Congress of the People.  In 1954, while attending a secret Congress of the People planning meeting in Tongaat, without a permit, the police raid the meeting. Kathrada has no alternative but to hide in a motor vehicle until the raid is over.
1954
Kathrada Is elected as a delegate to the SAIC conference in Durban. In order to travel he is forced to apply for a permit using a friend’s address.  The police raid the meeting but are outfoxed when he produces a valid travel permit for Durban.  Later, he is summoned to appear in Benoni’s Magistrate Court on charges of perjury for using a false address in obtaining the permit.  His lawyer, Harold Wolpe, manages to get him off and he is discharged. Kathrada had found a legal loophole to obtain permits but it was not for long.
22 October, Kathrada is served with a two year banning order prohibiting him from attending any gatherings and from taking part in the activities of 39 organizations. These bans curtail his overall participation in politics, but do not deter him.
1955
When Indian schools in Johannesburg are moved out of the city to the segregated location of Lenasia, some 22 miles away, he helps organize the Central Indian High School Parents’ Association (established as a private school to combat the Group Areas Act), and was duly elected its Secretary.
He helps organize the multi-racial 'Congress of the People', which proclaims the 'Freedom Charter', a policy document of the Congress Alliance.  Kathrada serves on the General Purposes Committee responsible for technical matters of the Congress.  Owing to his banning orders, he cannot attend in person but observes the proceedings from a nearby storeroom. Kathrada is arrested again with Aggie Salim and Dr Ike Moosa for being in Bloemfontein without a permit.  Joe Slovo represents him in court and manages to get him off on the main charge of being in the Free State without a permit.  He is found guilty of entering the Coloured township of Heatherdale without a permit and fined ten shillings.
1956
October, Kathrada’s first ban expires and he is immediately served with another banning order, this time for five years, which confines him to the magisterial district of Johannesburg.  
December, Kathrada is arrested for treason in a nationwide swoop along with 155 other activists of the freedom movement. The trial lasts from 1957 until March 1961. Eventually all 156 leaders are found not guilty.
1957
16 January, Kathrada is issued with a five-year banning order and is restricted to the Johannesburg area.
1960
The Law practice of Mandela & Tambo is closed, so Mandela practices from Flat 13, Kholvad House.
27 March, Kathrada is one of a handful of people present at a farewell gathering for OR Tambo who is leaving for exile. It is his task to drive Adelaide Tambo to Houghton to bid farewell to her husband.
30 March, Following the Sharpeville massacre, he is detained for five months during the State of Emergency.
1961
March, Kathrada is part of a small committee entrusted to finding safe houses for Mandela to stay, facilitating his day-to-day activities, acquiring motor vehicles, arranging for him to meet journalists and so forth.  By this time, Mandela is working underground. 
May, The All-in-African Conference in Pietermaritzburg demands a national convention of all the peoples of South Africa, with a view to drawing up a new constitution.  If the Government does not accept this proposal, it is decided that a three-day nationwide strike would take place. 
As the date of the promised strike approaches, members of the organising committee prepared to go underground.  Kathrada decides to disguise himself as a Muslim priest and in a long robe, fez and a false beard for this purpose.  Unfortunately, on his way to pick up Molvi Cachalia, he is arrested at a road block by the notorious Sergeant Dirker who informs him that he has a warrant of arrest for him as he broke his banning orders by visiting his mother in Schweizer-Reneke five months before.
Kathrada is taken to court after spending 48 hours in a cell at Marshall Square.  The Security police believe that he was planning to escape from the country.  He is denied bail and charged under the Suppression of Communism Act.  He becomes the first person in the country to be detained in terms of the 12-day detention law, at Marshall Square, Modderbee Prison (East Rand) and then transferred to the Fort in Johannesburg.
At his next court appearance, bail is refused again and the case is transferred to Schweizer-Reneke. He spends about six weeks in detention. Sergeant Dirker insists that Kathrada be held in a proper prison, as he is a ‘dangerous terrorist’.  As a result, Kathrada is transferred to another prison in Christiana.  He is subsequently granted bail of £50.  The case is heard in Schweizer-Reneke where he receives a six month suspended sentence.
Kathrada is arrested for serving on a strike committee that opposes Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd's plan to declare South Africa a Republic.
December, Following the first acts of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) sabotage, Kathrada is placed under a 13-hour-day house arrest.  He goes underground and continues to attend secret meetings at Rivonia, the underground headquarters of the African National Congress.
1962
15 January, The five-year banning order that confines him to Johannesburg expires at midnight.  At the stroke of midnight, Tommy Vassen, Dennis Brutus and Kathrada set off for Schweizer-Reneke en route for Cape Town where he spends several weeks.
Kathrada is one of MK’s earliest recruits even before the official launch of MK on 16 December 1961.  He is a member of the Regional Command that identifies potential targets and serves in a unit that carries out acts of sabotage with a view of assessing targets and testing the efficacy of their weaponry.  In the first half of this year, he terminates his membership of the regional command after discussing certain of his reservations with some of his senior comrades.
April, Under the pretext of a social gathering, Ben Turok brings an Israeli journalist to Kathrada’s flat at Kholvad House to interview Walter Sisulu. Just as they are having tea, the Security Police barge in and arrested Sisulu, Turok and Kathrada on charges of attending an illegal gathering.  Despite his protestations that his banning orders had expired, the police detain them at Marshall Square and at The Fort for a few days.  Kathrada subsequently sues the Minister of Justice for wrongful arrest and is paid £100 in an out of court settlement.
5 August, After Mandela's return from the Pan African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa Conference in Addis Ababa, he travels to Natal to meet Chief Luthuli and the Natal Indian Congress to brief them on the Conference and to counter reports that he had deviated from the ANC’s position on non-racialism. 
On his way back to Johannesburg, he is arrested in Howick. Kathrada then becomes Secretary of the Free Mandela Committee set up after Mandela’s arrest
22 October, New house arrest orders are served on Kathrada at the Old Synagogue in Pretoria where Mandela is being tried.  The order confines him to Johannesburg, which prohibits him from attending any gatherings or communicating with any banned or listed persons. He is then obliged to report to the police daily.  Kathrada becomes the second victim of the new house arrest laws, the first being Helen Joseph.  Under this law, he can no longer receive any visitors, not even his mother.  He is confined to his flat for 13 hours on weekdays and 24 hours during public holidays and weekends.
1963
24 May, Under instructions from the SACP, he goes underground, moving to Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia
2 July, Kathrada leaves Liliesleaf Farm.  Bob Hepple, a Central Committee member drives him to a new hideout at Terrace Road, Mountain View, Johannesburg.
11 July, Kathrada is arrested at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia with other leaders of the underground movement. This is his 18th arrest on political grounds.
6 October, Kathrada, together with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg and other leaders are released from their 90 day detention and formally charged.
9 October, The Rivonia Trial begins.  Kathrada’s co-accused are Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoeledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Dennis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Govan Mbeki, Rusty Bernstein, Jimmy Kantor and Bob Hepple. Bernstein and Kantor are later acquitted.
1964
12 June, Kathrada is sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour at the end of the Rivonia Trial for organizing and directing Umkhonto we Sizwe ('Spear of the Nation'), the military wing of the ANC. He is found guilty of committing specific acts of sabotage.
13 June, At the age of 34, he arrives on Robben Island where he spends the next 18 years with his colleagues in the isolation section of the Maximum Security Prison. His prison number was 468/64.
1965
31 March, Kathrada enrols for correspondence courses through the University of South Africa (UNISA).
1965 – 1982
Kathrada undertakes and completes a BA in History and Criminology (1965-68), a Bachelor of Bibliography degree and a BA Honours in History and African Politics.
1966
August, Kathrada leaves Robben Island for a month.  He is moved to Pretoria with Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba where they testify on behalf of the Pan Africanist leader, Zeph Mothopeng, who had sued the police and the Minister of Justice for injuries sustained when he was tortured during detention.
1968
Kathrada successfully completes his degree, the first prisoner on Robben Island to obtain a degree.
1975
He is awarded his Bachelor of Bibliography degree.
1978
After 13 years on the Island, Kathrada is “promoted” as ‘A’ group prisoner, the last of the Rivonia trialists. This means that he can receive two visitors at a time, twice a month.
1982
21 October, The Prison authorities moved Kathrada from Robben Island Prison to Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison in Cape Town to join Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni who had been moved there a few months before.
1983
Kathrada is elected a patron (with his fellow Rivonia trialists) of the newly launched United Democratic Front (UDF).
1985
13 February, Mandela, Sisulu, Mlangeni, Mhlaba and Kathrada jointly sign a written response, rejecting Prime Minister PW Botha’s offer to release all political prisoners, providing they ‘undertook not to fuel the flames of violence that was sweeping the country’.
1986
Kathrada is honoured by the University of Guelph, Canada, with an honorary community degree.
8 February, Kathrada is honoured by Central London Polytechnic.
1988
Kathrada is awarded the ANC's highest possible award, the Isitwalandwe Award.
1989
15 October, Kathrada is released from prison at the age of 60. On his release, he was given a hero’s welcome in Soweto where he addressed a crowd of 5 000 people.  Kathrada remarked, "I never dreamed I would be accorded such status."
1990
In the early 1990s, Kathrada is one of an ANC delegation that meets with Cabinet Minister, Adriaan Vlok, and senior officials of the Prisons Department.
1991
At the first legal conference of the ANC in the country in Durban, he is elected to the NEC of ANC. He was also the Head of ANC Public Relations Department. He is appointed Fellow of the Mayibuye Centre, University of the Western Cape (UWC).
1992
Kathrada goes on Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca.
1994
He is elected a Member of Parliament after South Africa's first democratic elections. He is also appointed parliamentary counsellor in the office of President Nelson Mandela.
1997
Kathrada is elected as the Chairperson of the Robben Island Council, a position he occupies until 2006. Kathrada steps down from the National Executive Committee at the ANC's Mafikeng conference.
1999
Kathrada does not stand for re-election in 1999 elections.
10 June, He receives the Presidential Award of the Order for Meritorious Service Class 1 from President Nelson Mandela.
June, Kathrada takes leave of parliamentary politics.
2002
Kathrada is awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Massachusetts and the University of Durban-Westville.
2003
4 October, Kathrada receives the Mahatma Gandhi Award by the Congress of Business and Economics, presented by President Thabo Mbeki.
2004
Kathrada is awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Missouri, United States of America.
2006
Kathrada steps down as Chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council.
Kathrada serves as patron of the Trauma Centre, on the executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation board, on the board of Freedom Park, on the Presidential Advisory Council for Awards board.
2008
30 August, Amhed Kathrada Foundation is launched
2009
21 August, Kathrada celebrates his 80th birthday.

Last updated : 11-Apr-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 13-Jul-2011