South Africa is mourning the loss of iconic struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada, who was a staunch defender of equality, including that of the LGBT community.
Kathrada, who passed away at the age of 87 in Johannesburg on Tuesday, dedicated his life to the liberation of South Africa from apartheid.
In 2013 he participated in an It Gets Better campaign to support Cape Town’s Triangle Project Helpline, expressing his support for the rights of LGBT people in South Africa and across the continent.
“The act of love is what makes us human. Imposing sanctions on love according to race, class, gender or sexuality is an act against being human,” he said in a video for the campaign.
“The continuous violence perpetuated against homosexuals in South Africa and the regressive laws against homosexuals in other parts of Africa indicate a busy road ahead of us before we can truly consider ourselves a fully mature society,” he continued.
“By understanding and accepting difference we embrace the human condition. Difference in our society is what makes us a vibrant and relevant people.”
Kathrada further advocated for sexual health rights and the promotion of “responsible sexual engagement so that we may learn to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS”.
Born in Schweizer-Reneke, Kathrada became an activist within the Indian community as a teenager and worked closely with the ANC. Following a spate of arrests and detentions because of his activism and resistance he went underground in early 1963.
Later that year he was arrested alongside members of the ANC during a secret meeting in Rivonia, Johannesburg. In 1964 he was sentenced to life imprisonment, along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Billy Nair, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba and Denis Goldberg.
Kathrada spent 26 years and three months in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. While in prison he obtained four university degrees, namely, BA (in History and Criminology), B Bibliography (in African Politics and Library Science), BA Honours (History) and BA Honours (African Politics).
He was finally released in 1989 and went on to formally join the ANC and served as a member of the National Executive Committee and as an MP.
In 2008, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation was launched. Kathrada was an active participant in its work, which includes promoting Constitutional ideals and human rights, youth leadership and development, challenging racism and preserving and promoting liberation history.
Kathrada is survived by his wife Barbara Hogan, also an ANC stalwart and veteran.