South African Indian freedom fighter honoured

South African Indian freedom fighter Ahmed Kathrada, 74, has received his fourth honorary doctorate, this time from the University of Missouri in the US.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2004 13:10 IST

A veteran South African Indian freedom fighter has received his fourth honorary doctorate, this time from the University of Missouri in the US.

Ahmed Kathrada, 74, who has retired from active politics to serve as chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council, was imprisoned on the island with Nelson Mandela for nearly two decades during the apartheid era.

"Ahmed M. Kathrada has been a fighter for human rights and freedom in South
Africa and around the world for more than 60 years," said the chancellor of Missouri University, Thomas George, eliciting a rousing ovation from the huge audience.

George also quoted star Alfred Woodard as saying: "On a tour to Robben Island, Ahmed Kathrada, ex-political prisoner #468/64, took me by the hand and led me into a place so small, I couldn't imagine how it could have held dreams so immense."

"I crossed not into his prison cell block, but into a sanctuary, a place made sacred by the power of ideas shared and the integrity of lives lived there."

The award marks the fourth honorary doctorate for Kathrada, one of which was
given while he was serving his life sentence on Robben Island. While in jail on Robben Island and then Pollsmoor, Kathrada completed bachelors' degrees in arts and bibliography as well as an honours degree in History and African Politics.

During the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, Kathrada was
elected to the National Assembly for the African National Congress (ANC)
that he had supported and fought for all his life.

Born to Indian immigrant parents on August 21, 1929, in Schweizer-Reneke in
what was then Western Transvaal province in South Africa, Kathrada became a
political activist while still a teenager when he got involved in the activities of the Young Communist League and the Transvaal Indian (Youth) Congress.

In the 1950s, he participated in the numerous campaigns of the Congress Alliance alongside ANC leaders like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. He was one of 156 leaders and activists accused in the marathon Treason Trial (1956-1961).

After the banning of the ANC and other organisations in 1960, Kathrada continued his political activities in spite of repeated detentions and increasingly more severe house arrest measures against him. He went underground in early 1963 but was arrested in July that year to face the trial that sent him to Robben Island.

First Published: Jan 21, 2004 13:10 IST