03 April 2023
On Tuesday, 28 March 2023, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) commemorated the sixth anniversary of Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada since his passing in 2017. The event took place at the Westpark Cemetery. Young people and prominent members of our society attended it. Speakers from different organisations, including AKF staff spoke about Kathy and the state of our democracy today.
AKF’s Executive Director, Neeshan Balton, opened and welcomed the guests. The first part of the event was the messages of remembrance from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Andrew Mlangeni Foundation and Sophie and Henry De Bruyn Foundation.
MESSAGES OF REMEMBRANCE
The first speaker was Razial Saleh from the Nelson Mandela Foundation and a board member of the AKF. Saleh gave an account of the history of Kathrada from when he met Nelson Mandela in 1946 and how they developed a deep bond of a shared vision of dismantling the Apartheid system. She spoke of how Kathy as an old statesman became a moral compass and reprimanded wrong doings by his comrades.
“Mr K played the role of an elder statesman, a moral compass and he spoke truth to power against those who abuse state power,” said Saleh.
Sello Mlangeni from the Mlangeni Foundation also emphasized on this point that Kathrada was indeed a moral compass. Mlangeni added that Kathrada believed young people had a crucial role to play in building our nation.
“He was very passionate about the youth, that they should carry the history of this country. We have a long history, and we should not forget it,” said Mlangeni.
“As you all know as the years had gone by how troubled he was by the way things in this country were going, he was not afraid to voice it out. That’s uncle Kathy,” added Mlangeni.
Aunt Sophie Williams – De Bruyn as the third speaker added to Mlangeni’s sentiments when she said that, “But long before he passed on, Kathy already observed the signs of the rot and decay that had set in and saw his noble vision, begin to fade, into obscurity, in his beloved country. True to his conviction, he condemned the chaos, looting and destruction that was unfolding, before his eyes,”
RESPONDING TO A COUNTRY IN CRISIS – DRAWING LESSONS FROM THE LIFE AND VALUES OF AHMED KATHRADA
The second segment was a panel discussion under the theme: Responding to a country in crisis – Drawing lessons from the life and values of Ahmed Kathrada. This part of the event was presented by three current and one former staff member of the AKF.
Nonkosi Maliti from the AKF who was the first speaker argued that South Africa needs Kathy’s courage and honesty at this time of uncertainty and lack of accountability.
“Many of you will agree that South Africa is a country in crisis. In this time of crisis what we need more than ever before is Ahmed Kathrada’s honesty and courage. He always spoke out against what he believed was wrong. That is the legacy we need to uphold,” said Maliti.
When there was a need, he spoke against the government too which is led by his own ANC. Driven by the conviction to unite people, he spoke against stances that sought to divide our beloved nation.
Zaakirah Vadi, from Defend our Democracy, made this point clearly in her speech about Kathrada not being swayed when it came to taking a principled position.
She said, “As I look back, I recognise that the stance taken by Uncle Kathy on numerous occasions was not easy, and not always popular. All who do see themselves as truly progressive – not the narrow version of the word that we’ve become accustomed to – shouldn’t expect an easy road ahead and must expect criticism and a cold shoulder from some.”
Even though Kathrada disagreed with his comrades he did not take them as their enemies. He was a man who was politically matured and understood that differences should not make people enemies. Irfaan Mangera from the AKF explains today’s political state where comrades are prepared to destroy one another because of their different political views.
“Today, our politics and political culture has become so rotten that members of the same party find themselves drawing battle lines, using the public and our communities as their battleground. Taking up arms against opponents without being able to contest ideas. Kathy reminded us that the constitutional democracy we have today, was hard fought, and that leaders across the political spectrum must have the maturity to work through their differences to ensure at the very basic level, children have the freedom to receive equal and quality education, have the freedom to play in a park that is adequate and safe, and not come from a home that is abusive and or go a day without a nutritious meal,” said Mangera.
Furthermore, Kathrada spoke vehemently against racism. He honestly believed that people of different races can work together and live in peace. To this end, AKF’s Rethabile Ratsomo closed the part of the event by saying,
“To my fellow born free generation, I encourage us to remember that wars were not won overnight. It is our duty to take forth Kathrada’s legacy and turn it into our reality. Let us be patient and steadfast in our quest for a non-racial society, and to encourage those that come after us to build bridges of understanding in the grey spaces.”
RESPONSE FROM THE “ UDF GENERATION”
The third part of the proceedings were presented by Ismail Vadi. He spoke of the birth of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and how it inspired them as young activists in the 1980s. Vadi continued to say that the formation of the played a very important party in the struggle as it managed to mobilise small and isolated struggles to one national struggle.
“ What the UDF was able to do was give it [small isolated struggles] a national identity, form and social cohesion. As that movement started growing and momentum was growing, the Apartheid state panicked,” said Vadi.
Vadi also expressed Kathrada’s never underestimated the views of ordinary people. He always wanted to know what the people on the ground were thinking regardless of their number. Vadi spoke about how today’s leaders are more concerned about themselves and have forgotten people on the ground. In this regard he makes an example of how Kathy travelled with young activists all over the country to learn from them as much as they learnt from him.
“We are losing that ability to work with young people, to build a new generation of leaders,” said Vadi.
However, Vadi also encouraged young people to take the initiative to learn from their elders and not have a mentality of ‘know it all’.
Towards the end of the programme Zohra Areington, a niece of Kathy spoke of how Kathrada was a family man with a great sense of humour and how he always had time for young people. The second speaker to give tribute was Yusuf Moosajee from the Congress of Business and Economics.
Moosajee, again highlighted how Kathrada was a man of humility. Kathrada did not want other struggle icons to be forgotten and reminded people that there are others who suffered more than them and even paid the ultimate price of death. He further spoke about the CBE’s plans to continue with the annual Kathrada leadership awards.
Catherine Constantinides who is a board member at the AKF closed the events with the following words,
“ Let us not forget that all of us have the duty and responsibility to build our nation from the ground up. It does not matter who we are or where we come from, let us stand in our corners and let us be brave. Let us live with the conviction that uncle Kathy lived and let us remember his legacy, and take it to every corner of South Africa…”
The proceedings were followed by a laying of wreaths.
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation would like to thank all the speakers who shared their thoughts on the day. We also thank everyone who attended the event and made it a success. Please follow our social media platforms to watch the speeches of the day.
Follow our Youtube link to watch the full video of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYsEmfX1_28&t=2s