Ahmed Kathrada publishes Robben Island writings

Liberation stuggle veteran Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada on Sunday launched a book of poetry, songs and quotations he transcribed while locked away for 26 years in apartheid prisons.

The book—A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada’s Notebook from Robben

Island—was launched at a function in Mayfair, Johannesburg, organised by Jacana Media and the Lenasia branch of the African National Congress.

Among those who attended was the human rights lawyer, George Bizos, who defended Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, former president Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg and other liberation movement leaders at the Rivonia treason trial in 1964.

In his speech, Kathrada teased Bizos, saying: “He comes to these conferences as a reminder that he was the one who sent us to prison.”

As the crowd’s laughter subsided, Kathrada added: “But he did save us from the gallows…”

Kathrada said the authorities went out of their way to stop prisoners from studying, and study material had to be smuggled into the Robben Island prison.

The foreword to the book contains tributes from political figures, academics, some Hollywood actors—including Samuel L Jackson, Blair Underwood, Danny Glover and Gillian Anderson—and a word from music giant Quincy Jones.

Most praise Kathrada for his moral stature, integrity and courage and, not least, his “wonderful” sense of humour.

The gathering was addressed by Dr Neville Alexander who spent time on Robben Island with Kathrada. Alexander was the co-founder of a smaller movement, the National Liberation Front, and was convicted in 1964 of conspiracy to commit sabotage.

“The Robben Island experience is one which we in South Africa have still very much to learn from,” Alexander said.
People of different views of what South Africa should look like were thrown together on the island, and this was very important for “shaping the democratic ethos for this country”.

The prisoners “succeeded in turning Robben Island from a place of punishment to a place of learning… from a prison to a university”.

Alexander said Kathrada’s book was “about culture, about civilisation, the shaping of human beings, our minds and our personalities”.

“An exceptionally useful companion, the book should trigger a lot of thought, especially for the youth growing up today,” Alexander said.

The book was edited by writer, editor and freelance journalist Sahm Venter. She has dedicated it to Kathrada, all those who sacrificed their lives in the struggle for democracy in South Africa, “and to the children who inherited freedom—always

remember how we got here”.

“Kathrada is a man who sacrificed so much that you and I can be free today,” Venter said. - Sapa

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