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'Hamba Kahle Mkhonto': The ANC Bids Farewell To 'This Great Son of Africa'

"We have lost a leader whose service to his country will forever be inscribed. Hamba Kahle Comrade Kathy."

28/03/2017 08:50 SAST | Updated 28/03/2017 10:46 SAST

The African National Congress dips its revolutionary banner in mourning on the passing of Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe Comrade Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, fondly known as Uncle Kathy. Comrade Kathy passed away today following a short period of illness. He was 87 years old.

The title of Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe is the highest honour that can be bestowed by the African National Congress (ANC) and the people of South Africa on those who have made an outstanding contribution and sacrifice to the liberation struggle. With the passing of Comrade Kathy the nation has lost a titan, an outstanding leader and a great patriot -- a man who stands apart for his service to the people of South Africa, and to the country.

The knowledge that Uncle Kathy was in his twilight years has done little to lessen the blow we have been dealt this sad day. Uwile umthi omkhulu.

His life is a lesson in humility, tolerance, resilience and a steadfast commitment to principle, even when taking a principled stance would place him at odds with his comrades. Uncle Kathy, despite disagreement with the ANC leadership from time to time, never abandoned nor turned his back on the ANC and always affirmed that the ANC and the ANC alone was the only political organisation that reflected the values and aspirations of all South Africans.

Until his hospitalisation Uncle Kathy was an active and vocal participant in the work of the elder statesmen of the African National Congress (ANC) towards keeping our great revolutionary movement on course. His was a constant, steady and moral voice, and we are all the poorer to have lost him.

From his early days Uncle Kathy was involved in the politics of this country. Born in the rural town of Schweitzer-Reneke in 1929 the first seeds of political consciousness were sown when he was still a teenager. He was only 17 when he participated in the Passive Resistance Campaign of the South African Indian Congress, for which he was later arrested.

After being introduced to Cdes. Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and IC Meer in the 1940's his political activities against the apartheid regime intensified, culminating in his being banned in 1954. Two years later he was amongst the 156 Treason Trialists together with Cdes Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, for which they were acquitted. A number of years of house arrests and bannings followed, after which Comrade Kathy joined the political underground.

He was one of the eight Rivonia Trialists of 1963, after being netted in a police swoop of the Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, and was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

Uncle Kathy spent 26 years in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. The experiences of his incarceration are poignantly conveyed in three memoirs he penned upon his release. These books have been an invaluable historical record opening a window into the harsh realities of life in Robben Island for political prisoners, and are prescribed reading in a number of South African schools.

His writings, that serve to educate future generations on the horrors of the past, but also the promise of the future, are amongst the finest of the political literature of that era. He was a man dedicated to lifelong learning, earning a number of degrees whilst incarcerated.

Given the magnitude of his imprisonment, it would have been easy for Uncle Kathy to retire from political life upon his release, but he continued to work tirelessly for the betterment of the lives of all South Africans. He was elected to the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) in 1989 and headed the organisation's Public Relations Department until 1994 when he was elected to Parliament. He served as a Parliamentary Counsellor to his longtime friend and confidante, Cde. Nelson Mandela, with whom he was incarcerated on Robben Island.

Uncle Kathy will be remembered as a man of deep and abiding faith. He undertook the Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in 1992 and was attached to his community for whom he was a mentor, elder statesman and inspiration. He embodied the strength of the human spirit to rise above adversities.

Islam's Holy Book, the Qur'an, is instructive with regards to the life of Comrade Kathy, a man who put country and countrymen before self.

"It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West, but righteousness to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing." (Surah Al Baqarah: 177).

We mourn this great Son of Africa, we salute his life.

To the Kathrada family and Comrade Kathrada's wife Comrade Barbara Hogan, the African National Congress extends our heartfelt condolences.

We have lost a leader whose service to his country will forever be inscribed.

To God we belong and Unto Him is our Return.

Hamba Kahle Mkhonto.

Kathrada -- Robben Island's Most Famous Tour Guide