Ahmed Kathrada: Veteran Communist and National Liberation Icon in South Africa Dies


“Kathy”, as he was popularly known, was elected to parliament in 1994  but declined to seek re-election five years later. He wrote an open letter to President Jacob Zuma, suggesting that perhaps he should step down due to widespread corruption in government. Zuma did not attend Kathrada’s memorial, citing the wishes of the family of the veteran freedom fighter.

Funeral services were held on March 29 for Ahmed Mohamed “Kathy” Kathrada, a longtime member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa.

Kathrada died at the age of 87 after undergoing neurosurgery. His memorial was attended by hundreds of family members and friends who paid tribute to the veteran of the decades-long national liberation struggle that brought the ANC to power in 1994.

Born on August 21, 1929 to Indian immigrant parents living in the Western Transvaal (now the North West Province), Kathrada was subjected to discriminatory practices of the racist system then dominated by the British with the Boers playing a supplementary role.

Coming from the Indian population in the settler-colonial state of the former Union of South Africa, Kathrada played an instrumental role in forming coalitions among the oppressed national groups across the country during the 1940s and 1950s.  In 1941, at the age of 12, he joined the Young Communist League, an affiliate of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA).

He was heavily influenced by Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, a leading member of the Indian Congress movement and the Communist Party. Dadoo was an important figure in the Non-European United Front (NEUF) which initially opposed African and Indian involvement in the military services during the early phase of World War II.

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