It was a highly insightful meeting that students from 18 schools in and around the Capital had on Monday with Ahmed Kathrada, a close associate of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and icon of the country’s anti-apartheid movement.
During his meeting with the members of GenY, which coincided with the worldwide celebrations of Mandela’s 93rd birthday, the 81-year-old Kathrada touched upon a wide range of subjects which included his long stints behind bars lasting nearly 25 years for his role in the anti-apartheid movement and the role he played after his release from prison in 1990, including his role as a member of South African parliament.
Kathrada, born in South Africa to parents who had migrated there from Gujarat, highlighted the struggle waged by the country’s majority black and coloured communities against discrimination at the hands of the minority whites. Citing such an example, he said that black prisoners like Mandela had to wear short trousers while he, being an Indian, was made to wear long ones.
When he referred to his initiation to politics at the age of 12, curious students were eager to know what prompted him to take the plunge at such a young age. Kathrada replied: “I had friends whose parents were politically active. They sometimes used to give us work like sticking posters. That’s what got me started.”
Referring to a short phase when he and some companions made the transition from peaceful protest to militant struggle against apartheid, he explained, “We, at first, used passive resistance. But when they did not yield, we trained soldiers to make bombs and sabotage institutions that were symbols of apartheid. But we ensured that this was carried out in such a way that no one was hurt.”
As to what motivated him during the struggle, he said, “Inside the jail, we were protected. No policeman was going to come and shoot us. It was our comrades outside who were being killed and tortured. Once, in a place called Soweto, 600 young students were killed. All this kept us motivated.”
Kathrada also referred to the strong ties between India and South Africa, where Mahatma Gandhi had launched his Satyagraha in South Africa in 1906, and anti-apartheid campaigners like Mandela drew inspiration to fight inequality from the former.
Asked if Gandhi’s brand of non-violence would work in today’s world, where war and conflict seem to be the order of the day, he said, “We would not advise other countries on the best course of action to resolve conflicts. But yes, we struggled through passive resistance, and we succeeded.”
The interaction was preceded by the inauguration of an exhibition of paintings by the students of Blue Bells International School, and cultural programmes, including the recital of We Shall Overcome, in which the audience joined in.
The event was jointly organised by the India International Centre, the Gandhi Peace Foundation, the South African High Commission, the United Nations Informatics Centre and the Working Group on Alternative Strategies.