July 23, 2011 By Umerul Farooq

The Man Behind Mandela

ahmedI am writing this with the prayer for Nelson Mandela, who left us on December 5, 2013, leaving us poorer in a world which thrives on and often boasts of violence. After Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Mandela might be the most celebrated leader who fought for the freedom of a people. Criticisms aside, Mandela has undoubtedly inspired many a generation of selfless activists and freedom fighters. That he fought hard against the apartheid, worst of all colonial aggressions, which, according to Shyam Benegal, went into the making of Mahatma Gandhi, does prove unquestionably that he is the sole surviving leader among us who can inspire all sorts of struggles against mammoth aggressors. This obit tries to understand the origin of Mandela’s thought and activism and to understand his success and failures in contrast to his potentialities.

Anthony Sampson, author of the authorized biography of Nelson Mandela, mentions in the preface Ahmed Muhamed Kathrada from whom Anthony had collected most of the information the book. Ahmed Kathara had spent 26 yrs. and 3 months in prison with Nelson Mandela, later became his advisor during his tenure as the president and held high portfolio in the Government of South Africa. It will never be a mistake to describe Ahmed Kathara, popularly called as Kathy, as the man behind Mandele.

Ahmed Kathara was born on 21 august 1929 in a family having roots in India. His struggle against the apartheid started from a very young age of 11. Joining the youth wing of the South African Communist league and at the age of 21, he was arrested among other 2000 citing violation of law framed for the protection of color prejudices against Indians. For his fighting against injustice, he had got inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi. At this time he had opportunity to get acquaintance with freedom fighters like Mandelae, Walter Sisulu, IC Meer, and JN Singh. Thus he became a hardcore activist of the African National Congress.

In 1951 he participated in a youth conference held at East Berlin which was organized under the auspicious both of the International Union of Students and World Federation of Democratic Youth. His visit to Auschwitz Concentration camp at Poland made impact in his life.
He returned to his home country in 1952 and got involved in the struggle against the apartheid. Consequently, activists including Mandele were jailed for rigorous imprisonment for nine months. Ahmed Kathara was also imprisoned during the fight for social justice and freedom. In 1956, following the trial of Rivonia for the offence of treason and sabotage, he jailed as a life prisoner with Mandela and others.

In prison life, Kathy continued his education and gratuated in History, Criminology, African politics and library science, history, and African Politics (Honours). He was very thirsty to proceed with post graduate study, but the jail rules didn’t allow the prisoners to move for PG studies.

On 15th October 1989 he was released from the jail. In the new government, Kathy held privileged positions. After the removal of its ban in 1990, Kathy was elected to the interim committee of ANC. He later became a member in the national executive committee of African National Congress in 1991. In the same year, he was appointed as head of public relations of ANC as well as a fellow of the University of Western Cape Mayibuye Centre. In 1994, he was elected as a Member of Parliament for ANC and he   had role of political advisor of the president, Nelson Mandele.  In 1999 he relieved from parliamentary politics. He had performed Hajj pilgrimage.
When he was in prison, he received Istiwalandwe Award, the highest accolade of ANC. He   was also admired with Honorary Doctorate from University of Missouri, Michigan State University, University of Kentucky and university of Witwatersrand etc. Ha achieved the 46th position in the top 100 Great Africans in 2004.  In 2005 he was privileged with Prawasi Bharatiya Samman awarded by Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. City of Johannesburg bestowed its highest honor- the freeman of the city- on Kathy in 21 august 2012.

MR. Harry Kreisler, representative of the Institute For International Studies, UC  Berkeley, in Nov 8th 1996 interviewed  Kathy. In a long conversation about the lessons he learnt from jail, Kathy responded that there are lessons for both the strugglers and the apartheid regime.
“When we launched an armed struggle in South Africa, we knew right from the start that we were not going to achieve victory over them. Our struggle was aimed at forcing the enemy to the negotiating table. So, that is a part of lesson for the people who are in the struggle. For other side, for the governments, they must also realize that a just struggle will win sooner or later. The sooner   oppressive regimes agree to come to the negotiating table and agree to negotiate with representatives of the struggling people, the less bloodshed, the less hardship, the less suffering, and the better. Because every just struggle will end in victory. It may take years, but it must end in victory. And it is going to end at the negotiating table. There are really few examples that ended otherwise.”

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