South African anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada dies

Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Billy Nair, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba and Denis Goldberg when the trial ended in June 1964.

Recently Mr Kathrada had been a vocal critic of scandal-plagued President Jacob Zuma and the ANC government.

"I can imagine how pained he was that he left at this point in time", said Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela, who wept at Kathrada's memorial and had supported his call a year ago for Zuma's departure.

Kathrada's arrest with other anti-apartheid activists in a 1963 police raid at Liliesleaf Farm, a secret safe house outside Johannesburg, was a turning point in his life.

While in prison, he obtained four university degrees - Bachelor's degrees in History/Criminology and Bibliography, Honours degrees in History and African Politics from the University of South Africa.

A portrait of the late anti-apartheid stalwart Ahmed Kathrada hang on a wall at the Nelson Mandela Foundation during his memorial service on March 28, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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I have agonised for a while before writing this letter to you.

In April previous year Kathrada called on Zuma to resign after South Africa's highest court found that Zuma had violated his oath of office by refusing to pay back public money spent on upgrading his rural home. "So we had to get our people to understand that these are not a few thousand that you can drown in the sea".

The foundation's director, Neeshan Balton, confirmed in a statement released just before 6am that the anti-apartheid struggle veteran had "breathed his last today".

He was released from prison in 1989, and after South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, President Mandela persuaded Kathrada to join him in government as his political adviser. Read Also: Mumbai's "real" Christmas tree man passes away At the famous Rivonia trial, eight of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour on Robben Island.

"He tightly held my hand, it was profoundly heartbreaking", Kathrada said in 2013.

Like Mandela, Kathrada's activism also extended to the Palestinian struggle, which he was vocally supportive of. I am highly respectful of him and the role he played.

"This is a great loss for South Africa". He was imprisoned for 26 years and three months - 18 of which were on the infamous Robben Island.

"His dedication, through the foundation, to the development of a new generation of young leaders will ensure that his impact on the development of a new, better society will endure for years to come", said Ramaphosa.

We pay respect to one of South Africa's most important figures in history.

Fellow Robben Island prisoner Laloo "Isu" Chiba said Kathrada was a moral figurehead of the anti-apartheid movement.

  • Carolyn Briggs