While anti-apartheid activist and philanthropist Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada remains humbled by his Freedom of the City Award, he believes other freedom fighters are far more worthy. The 86 year old struggle activist was conferred with the award by the City of Cape Town in a formal ceremony on Thursday at the iconic City Hall. The honour is bestowed on any person of distinction.
“Thank you for the kindness, foresight and humility of the council but mayor but I am not worthy of this award,” said Kathrada.
“Liberation fighters that were not at prison suffered more as they had to live through the oppressive laws in their daily lives. Those of us who were imprisoned at the time were protected because we were isolated,” he told the audience.
Instead, Kathrada paid tribute to the people like Dulcie September, Chris Hani, Ashley Kriel and Anton Fransch, Amy Biehl and the 600 Soweto learners killed by police in 1976.
“These are the people who deserve this award as they suffered due to repressive laws and police brutality under the oppressive legislation. These were the people that were at the coal face of the struggle. We were protected as no one would shoot at us,” says Kathrada.
Executive Mayor of Cape Town Patricia De Lille said the award was the highest honour that council could bestow on any person of distinction.
“His endurance as well as others who fought in the struggle shows what it takes to build a nation. Our most important legacy lies not in the tangible but in the way we think. Therefore the City acknowledges the deeds of Uncle Kathy to achieve liberation,” says De Lille.
Kathrada joins other recipients such as former president Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, as well as Professor Richard van der Ross.
“Kathrada is a son of our soil whose life is the tapestry of South Africa. The sacrifices he made and his values will be remembered,” says De Lille.
De Lille added that a nation not only has to be politically and socially liberated but has to undergo the emancipation of internalized oppression.
“Liberation affects people of all denominations and is achieved for people of all denominations but in order to be free a nation has to be free from the limitations of the past. Liberation has many faces including political, social and mental and until we have achieved all of these dimensions, we cannot truly be free,” says De Lille.
The life of Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada has been a journey of a fight for freedom. After a visit to Nazi Germany where he witnessed the genocide of the Jewish community he became involved in the struggle against Apartheid in 1941 and was arrested at 17 for his role in the Passive Resistance Campaign. Today, he continues to fight for equality and liberation.
“Uncle Kathy will always be a servant of the people and a leader of this country. He based his life and fight on freedom, fairness and opportunity. He will always be remembered for his efforts to achieve a non-sexist and non-racist South Africa,” says De Lille.
During the Rivonia Trial, Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. He spent 26 years imprisoned on Robben Island and was released from Pollsmoor Prison in 1989. In 1994, he was elected to Parliament and appointed as President Mandela’s Parliamentary Counsellor.
As a retired pensioner, he has devoted his time to being a voluntary tour guide at Robben Island, and is involved with various charity work including his own Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.
“There is so much around this country that people need to see. We have a rich heritage,” says Kathrada. VOC (Nailah Cornelissen)