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Ahmed Kathrada, The Gentle Giant I Got To Call My Friend

It is our very freedom that we so enjoy today that has your name, along with the names of other freedom fighters, our heroes, written all over it.

29/03/2017 09:09 SAST | Updated 29/03/2017 13:00 SAST
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Catherine Constantinides and Ahmed Kathrada.

Where do I even begin to describe how much you meant to me. Words fail to adequately describe my love, respect and admiration for you, my dearest K! Not only were you a man I deeply respected, a freedom fighter and iconic South African, but I had the privilege to call you my dearest friend. Thinking back, I cannot help but chuckle at how you insisted I drop the 'Uncle' nonsense, and just call you Kathy, because you loved that it made you feel much younger.

As I think back at the beautiful box of memories, moments and deep conversations shared with you, I am comforted by the time we got to spend together. I am comforted by the fact that your strength, conviction and bravery have left a great legacy and a lifetime of lessons for us all. I am comforted by the fact that your profound contribution to our beautiful nation will never be lost, because it is our very freedom that we so enjoy today that has your name, along with the names of other freedom fighters, our heroes, written all over it.

Over the past few years, you continued to stand tall, always striving for a better South Africa, always deeply invested in ensuring you did all you could to help us build a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa, and we will never forget how you stood up and spoke truth to power, especially at a time when we needed it most. Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for being a living example of the ideals you fought so hard for. You lived your life the way that you did, so that I could be a better South African and understand the meaning of a society that is built on these very principles.

My dearest K, you have taught me that there is absolutely nothing that can break the human spirit, you taught me that you must hold on to hope until the absolute end and beyond. How can we ever forget your conviction that there can never be freedom without sacrifice, you must always fight for freedom and more importantly defend that freedom and democracy at all costs.

You have left us with an immense responsibility. It is now for us to ensure that we continue to fight for our Human Rights as an engaged and active part of our society, one which fights against the injustices of today. In fact, the greatest honour to your memory and legacy is to be brave and bold as we stand up and hold our leadership to account. Holding your principles and values up high, calling out leaders and unashamedly standing for what is right, not what is easy. We must continue to carry forward the legacy of our martyrs who sacrificed their lives and their youth, for the freedom that we often take for granted today.

I am eternally grateful for your love and support in all my work and throughout my intense travel schedules here at home and around the world. I cannot thank you enough for the many emails, messages and calls to check in on me no matter where I was. I will truly miss the wisdom you packaged in even the shortest or most simple of messages. And after each trip and big occasion we would unpack our travels and travel diary with each other over lunch in either Johannesburg or Cape Town. Memories I am eternally indebted to have had.

You became a very special friend of our extended Miss Earth South Africa family, joining us for campaigns, talks and functions, always igniting the room with your smiling eyes and laughter. You believed in me and my work with the forgotten people of the Western Sahara right from the start of my human rights work. Always more than happy to give me advise, share in my stories from the work with the Saharawi's in the refugee camps; always sharing with me your personal memories, moments with your comrades and the personal accounts of that which you had to give up, sacrifice and learn to live without while on Robben Island. I was able to harness my work and journey as an activist because of you Uncle Kathy, you were my compass and guide.

Our trip together to Robben Island a little over two years ago, is a time and place etched into my mind forever. You walked me through history as you shared with me your struggle, the heartache, treasured memories with your dear friend, Tata and others. I will carry that very time with me forever. Standing in Tata Mandela's cell with you as you unpacked the horrific conditions of those 26 years, I was overwhelmed with emotion and remember thinking that here is a giant of a man, so humble, so gentle and filled with such compassion and love.

I battled to bring together the two extremes, on the one hand the dark and difficult path you walked and your duty-bound manner in which you executed the last few decades of your life with such kindness, love and dedication to our country. Our boat trip back was quiet, I sat in awe alongside you, a brave and gentle soul. I was once again overwhelmed by the magnificence of the human being beside me.

For those who loved and adored you, your laughter, smiling eyes and love for children will always be remembered. You were of a generation of courageous, fearless, selfless and principled leaders, a league of warriors. You were the best of us.

My devoted love and thoughts at this very difficult time to Barbara, my dearest Zohra, the extended family, Neeshan and the team at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

I will carry you in my heart forever.

Rest in Peace my darling friend.