30 June 2012

Kathy's humanity kept him strong

By: Zongezile Matshoba
Two years of hard work behind the scene ultimately paid dividends when Ahmed Kathrada, the African National Congress stalwart, graced Albany Museum on Saturday. Bongani Mgijima, the Museum Manager worked tirelessly to get the Kathy: The Man behind the Public Figure exhibition to come to Grahamstown as part of the 2012 National Arts Festival. When that failed in 2011, the efforts were revived again, and, with the help of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the National Arts Festival Office, and the South African Post Office, that became a reality. The exhibition is about Kathrada's personal life.

Kathrada, 83, affectionately known as Kathy, revealed that he got the nickname from his standard eight Afrikaans teacher in the 1940s when it was difficult for the teacher to call his name. Several other personal things that came out include his comrades and friends, such as Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned with him in Robben Island from the 1960s to the 1990s after the famous Rivonia Trial.

"I got a loaf of bread everyday, while Mandela never got it for ten years," he said.

When they were sanctioned not to get paper to write anymore, they used eight pieces of toilet papers in the mornings and evenings to share information and their thoughts.

Kathy tasted better food and other things after 18 years of imprisonment, when they were sent to Pollsmoor Prison. He only saw and touched a child after 20 years, something that he appreciated very much up to this day whenever he sees a child.

The prison did not dampen their spirit as political prisoners. They were adamant that the struggle was continuing outside, and that one day they would be freed. He jokingly said that one thing that never crossed their minds was that Mandela would come out to be the State President, and having Kathrada serving under him.

Their suffering inside was nothing as compared to the knowledge that their comrades outside were suffering more. Kathrada said that "In prison we were safe and protected. No police could come and shoot us".

Kathrada's advice is that ignorance is wrong. He gave an example of a wife of certain man that was shocked to learn that he had spent 26 years in prison. She then asked, "Was it for murder?"

The dwindling number of history students is also raising some concern since that has its own consequences. The young and old are becoming more and more ignorant of their history, are easily forgetting the past, and are unable and unwilling to talk about their past or to contribute to current debates, and social cohesion.

The exhibition is at Albany Observatory Museum (Bathurst Street), and can be viewed from 09h00 until 17h00 during the National Arts Festival. It will then move to Albany History Museum (Somerset Street) for the next three months.     

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