Denis Goldberg: Ahmed Kathrada ‘never gave up’

DW: Ahmed Kathrada, a South African anti-apartheid activist, who spent 26 years in prison for campaigning to end white minority rule in South Africa, has died in Johannesburg at the age of 87. He was sentenced along with Nelson Mandela to life imprisonment with hard labor on Robben Island at the Rivonia trial in 1964. One of the other eight defendants at that trial who received the same sentence was Denis Goldberg. Mr Goldberg, what are your memories of that trial and of Ahmed Kathrada?

Denis Goldberg: We were on trial for our lives, for a conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid state. What I remember is Kathrada’s calm, his humor, his ability to see that what we were doing was something we had to do. Because you cannot allow tyranny to continue. His whole life was spent doing this, before prison, during prison, after prison. I saw him a month ago, at an event where we were both invited to honor the life of Nelson Mandela as the epitome of sacrifice in the interests of all, not Nelson Mandela as the saint trying to set us free but a great leader. And Ahmed Kathrada was very ill, very frail, but he was there and he spoke in such a strong voice about what we have done and why we did it and why it was necessary to go on promoting non-racism, respect for people, respect for immigrants, respect for all. And I must admit that humor, courage, integrity, persistence, all of these words apply to him, and tremendous charm as well.

What will it mean for the ANC to lose an icon like Ahmed Kathrada at this particular time when the party is in disarray and some feel it has lost its moral compass?

There is the Ahmed Kathrada foundation: they are very active and very strong in upholding his belief in non-racism and integrity and accountability of government. And he did speak out against the president himself and against corruption and against the distortion of values. And we shall uphold this – it is important that it be upheld. I have a fear that the government will give him a state funeral, which he deserves, but as a way of trying to defuse his criticism of government and trying to co-opt him. I think it is important that we uphold his values and his strength and integrity.

How much influence did Ahmed Kathrada have in shaping in the new South Africa in the run-up to the elections which Nelson Mandela won in 1994?

Because we had come out of such a time, Ahmed Kathrada – like the rest of us – had a role in bringing people to the polls and re-organizing the ANC. He was a personal adviser to President Mandela and he played a very important role as they travelled the world.

How great was his disenchantment with the latter-day ANC under President Jacob Zuma?

I would [rather] say disappointment, and determination to speak out to put it right. It wasn’t disenchantment that led him to say “To hell with it, we’re not interested anymore.” He never gave up. You know we say “the struggle continues” and he struggled right to the end.

Denis Goldberg is a South African anti-apartheid activist, who was setenced to prison along with Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia trial in 1964.

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