Farewell, Uncle Kathy: Ahmed Kathrada has joined ‘the A-Team’

Photo © George Hallett / South Photographs / Africa Media Online
Anti-apartheid activist and ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada

In his oration at Nelson Mandela’s official burial ceremony in December 2013, Uncle Kathy as Ahmed Kathrada was affectionately known, said that his friend had joined “the A-team” of the ANC, which included Chief Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Helen Joseph and Bram Fischer among others.

Now the 87-year-old activist and struggle veteran has also left us to join them in a place that is more serene and less fraught than life on earth.

Slowly the great wise men and women of yesteryear are departing, bequeathing what they fought for to those that come after to watch over and protect. In a young society we recognise the important role that our youth must play in shaping our future, but we must also not abandon the teachings and the wisdom of our elders in constructing a new world.

As South Africa’s constitutional democracy and governance are tested, as the young feel completely disconnected from the old, and as we try to make sense of where the vision of 1994 has strayed, let us remember the words of Uncle Kathy at Madiba’s burial:

We are fortunate that today we live in a noisy and lively democracy. We are eternally grateful that dignity has been restored to all South Africans. We are forever grateful that the lives of many are improving, although not enough yet. We are deeply grateful for a Constitution that encompasses all that is good in us and a constitutional order that protects our hard-won freedom. Finally, we are infinitely grateful that each and every one of us, whether we are African, White, Coloured or Indian, can proudly call ourselves South Africans.

Mindful of our gains, we nevertheless know that a long, long road lies ahead, with many twists and turns, sometimes through difficult and trying times. Poverty, ill-health and hunger still stalk our land. Greed and avarice show their ugly faces. Xenophobia and intolerance play their mischief in our beautiful land. Parts of the world out there find themselves in unhappy situations; economies falter and stagger; extremism and fundamentalism of all kinds are rampant; the earth reels from climate change, and the poor battle to survive. Ferocious struggles for democracy unfold daily before our very eyes and the numbers of political prisoners grow in step with rising intolerance.[…]

[…] it is up to the present and next generations to take up the cudgels where you [Madiba] have left off. It is up to them, through service to deepen our democracy; entrench and defend our Constitution; eradicate poverty; eliminate inequality; fight corruption, and serve always with compassion, respect, integrity and tolerance. Above all, they must build our nation and break down the barriers that still divide us.

Xenophobia, racism and sexism must be fought with tenacity, wisdom and enlightenment. Anything that defines someone else as ‘the other’, has to go. Tolerance and understanding must flourish and grow. In all these actions we are and will be guided by your wisdom and deeds.

Kathrada’s own words are a fitting tribute to his life and what we should strive for, in realising a democratic and just South Africa. SAIIA extends its deepest condolences to his family.

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