Farewell and Peace Ahmed Kathrada
28 Mar 2017
As most of you will know by now, Ahmed Kathrada, one of South Africa’s greatest struggle heroes passed away this morning. Much has been written and said about him, and much will be written and said in the coming days. Not many will know that he was a regular visitor to TSiBA and from 2009 until 2011 the absolute highlight of the early years of the TSiBA-Northeastern Programme. In his guest lectures, he talked to us about the struggle, about his years in prison with Nelson Mandela and the other stalwarts of the struggle and the shock of emerging from prison life after 26 years. After the lectures, he would take us to Robben Island and show us his “home” for 18 of the 26 years he was imprisoned. In 2011, he was also a focal point of our Spirit of Youth Programme, where he joined in a dialogue with South African youth about the meaning of the struggle in their lives today.
Mr. Kathrada delighted both our “born-free” South African students for whom apartheid is something their parents talk about, as well as our American guests eager to learn about South Africa. In his dialogues with students, he was never overbearing, always engaging. Whether he was showing Robben Island to Barack Obama or a TSiBA student, in his presence, everyone felt important as he treated them the same. Mr. Kathrada impressed not through the telling of his many achievements, but through his humility and down-to-earth manner. He was never bitter about the 26 years of personal freedom he had to sacrifice: He pointed to the freedom his “small sacrifice” brought for all South Africans and remarked on the greater sacrifice of those who lost their lives in the struggle. His sense of humour remained remarkably intact.
Failing health prohibited Mr. Kathrada from further visits to TSiBA, although he continued to fight for the values he held so dear. For the many of us who experienced him face-to-face, the experience will be etched in our memories forever. Thank you, Uncle Kathy.