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Ahmed Kathrada, a man of integrity




This submission was sent in response to AN OPEN LETTER by Ariel Ziv to Ahmed Kathrada published on 30 April. Nine users posted comments to the letter.

​​​There are not many who can claim over 70 years of unbroken service as human rights activists. There are fewer who can claim to continue doing so, just five years away from the age of 90. Ahmed Kathrada is one of these individuals, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation said in op-ed article to Jewish Report.

A leader of South Africa’s liberation struggle, most South Africans associate Kathrada’s name with that of former President Nelson Mandela – and justifiably so.

The late Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Arthur Chaskalson, in his foreword to Kathrada’s Memoirs, writes the following:

“We met as a result of the Rivonia Trial, where I was a junior member of the defence team. As I got to know K (Kathrada) during the period of almost a year that the trial lasted, my respect and admiration for him grew. He is a person of great courage and integrity, and although he makes no claims for himself, they shine through in his memoirs.”

Those, like Chaskalson, who had the opportunity of meeting the Struggle veteran, know that Kathrada is a person of integrity, loyalty and humility. So it is disappointing that some misinterpret the veteran’s readiness to stand for justice.

We refer to an opinion piece entitled, “An open letter to Ahmed Kathrada” by a particular Ariel Ziv, recently published prominently on the SA Jewish Report’s website. Unfortunately, instead of engaging with Kathrada’s actual views on Palestine and Israel, Ziv attacked Kathrada personally, in an attempt to tarnish his integrity and loyalty to human rights activism – the two very qualities that have defined him as a leader for millions in South Africa, in the African continent, and globally.

Character assassination is a deliberate and consistent tactic used by those who defend injustice but lack convincing arguments. It reflects poorly on the person using it, and on those who support him. It is a tactic that Kathrada has come up against in various contexts throughout his life. It has never succeeded in deterring people of conscience, and in this instance it had failed both to deter Kathrada and to diminish his reputation for integrity.

Having been sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, Kathrada stood a chance of having his sentence decreased if he appealed. On principle, he did not. How would it look, if he, who was given the platform to speak against apartheid, was not prepared to face the consequences thereof?

How hypocritical would it seem, if he was not prepared to suffer the same fate as his leaders, Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and others? Kathrada, a young man with his whole life before him, opted for the cold cells of Robben Island. Certainly, he cannot be described as lacking in integrity.

Kathrada is also painfully aware of the suffering Jewish communities have faced throughout history, particularly during the Holocaust. Describing his thoughts and emotions after visiting Auschwitz, Kathrada wrote: “I could never obliterate the sight of the trench in which dogs mauled and savaged people to death; the gas chambers and the incinerators; the lampshades made of human skin; the pillows stuffed with human hair. Auschwitz is arguably the most poignant reminder to mankind of the evils of racism.” We ask Mr Ziv, would someone, who is an anti-Semite make such a statement?

Kathrada’s friendships with people have cut across the racial divides. A strong proponent of non-racialism and the Constitution of South Africa, Kathrada’s respect for people of various backgrounds and faiths is uncompromising.

All of the white men who stood accused at the Rivonia Trial, alongside Kathrada, were Jews. Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Dennis Goldberg, Rusty Bernstein, Wolfie Kodesh and Arthur Goldreich, are just a few of the Jewish comrades, with whom Kathrada has had close relationships. For these and other people, the claim that he is an anti-Semite would just seem ridiculous.

Kathrada is ardent that the Jewish community of South Africa is an integral participant in the challenge of healing and building our society.

When Kathrada criticises Israel, he criticises its actions and its policies. These are increasingly discriminatory, and warrant much criticism. The present government of Israel is intent on deepening the policy of occupying the West Bank, instead of ending it.

Speaking out against this is important, primarily for the freedom and dignity of Palestinians, but also because it is already undermining the rights even of Israel’s Jewish citizens.

Kathrada’s views on human rights and democracy are consistent with his support for the freedom of Palestinians. This includes Palestinian political prisoners, such as Marwan Barghouthi, whom he believes, have the capacity to negotiate towards a peaceful settlement in the region.

His views are based on the premise, that in the past, although incarcerated by occupying regimes, leaders – some branded as terrorists – have contributed towards the freedom of the oppressed and the oppressor. Notable examples can be found in the stories of Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta and Mahatma Gandhi.

If there is a statement that epitomises the struggle for freedom and dignity in South Africa, it is Mandela’s during the Rivonia Trial: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

To date, Kathrada still stands for these noble objectives. He will speak out against the domination of one over another, whether this domination is manifested through colonialism, anti-Semitic pogroms, apartheid or Zionist occupation.

While the time and context of each of these systems may be different, the nature of racism and injustice remain very much the same.

Similarly, the ideals of freedom and dignity for all, regardless of race, religion and nationality are universal. It is these ideals, which Kathrada, at the age of 85, is still willing to fight for.

Continue Reading


  1. Adam Levy

    May 21, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    ‘What a gracious response to the churlish piece written by Ariel ZIv and trumpeted by the Jewish Report. You owe Kathy and unreserved apology!’

  2. Gary Selikow

    May 22, 2014 at 7:54 am

    ‘Sure, he sympathizes wiuth victims of the Holocaust but has no sympathy with the Jews of Israel struggling to survive today and living in the shadow of another imminent holocaust if the BDS monsters and people like Kathrada are not stopped’

  3. South African Jew

    May 27, 2014 at 7:39 am

    ‘I have a few queries regarding this statement, please see below.

    1. \”We ask Mr Ziv, would someone, who is an anti-Semite make such a statement? \”

    – \”If\” Mr. Kathrada is such a humanitarian, and feels that he should fight against injustice against humanity should he not give effort towards Holocaust education as a cornerstone statement against crimes against humanity?

    If he indeed does feel that  \”Auschwitz is arguably the most poignant reminder to mankind of the evils of racism.\”, would it not be important to drive the most poignant reminder of evil to the masses? If all of mankind is to been seen equal why is it he fought so bravely against Apartheid, but sees the Holocaust as an old historic fact, and not something that should be taught, let alone the fact the query if he has contacted the various countries who deny the Holocaust. Is there any show of equality in Mr. Kathrada’s actions? (Barring 1 Holocaust statement, which as a educated man, he probably felt obligated to make to maintain respect as an intellectual, as apposed to taking a stance against the Holocaust and its deniers.)

    2. \”All of the white men who stood accused at the Rivonia Trial, alongside Kathrada, were Jews.\” \”The Jews\” mentioned, were in his presence because they were fighting against Apartheid, and stood by the ANC against the South African Regime, NOT because he was there to help or support the Jewish Plight. Yes he stood together with Jews, but that is because they were fighting his battle, not the other way around. The enemy of my enemy if my friend.. After the Jews fought against apartheid with you, and won, are we all no longer friends then? And why does their race have any value in his statement?

    3. \”When Kathrada criticises Israel, he criticises its actions and its policies. These are increasingly discriminatory, and warrant much criticism. The present government of Israel is intent on deepening the policy of occupying the West Bank, instead of ending it.\”

    In the recent Peace Talks, which fell apart, the major instigator for Israel taking a step back was that the political leaders of the Palestinians, who just partnered with a recognized terrorist group, and both have been approved weapons and funding support from Iran, refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, which its legally documented birth was founded upon.How is it, there are so many poor, suffering Palestinians, yet there are over 1,000 $ millionaires? Why is it they have declined international funding and social projects into the Billions of dollars, so they can further leverage their suffering? Where is Mr. Kathrada’s rage towards missiles fired into Israeli towns which have no military targets? What is his stance on shooting at Israeli buses, and digging tunnels into Israel?

    And Finally, is it in his opinion, a racial situation that Egypt are taking the fight to Sinai and their Gaza border and launched a battle against terrorist organizations linked to the Palestinian Authority?

    4. \”Kathrada still stands for these noble objectives. He will speak out against the domination of one over another\”

    Thats a powerful comment.. Might I ask for your input on the following, and what action you have undertaken to combat these crimes, which you assure us you will speak on, if in fact you don’t support them:

    Persecution of Papa New Guinea and Amazonian tribes, The constant Shiite Sunni head clashing, the Oppressive takeover in Thailand, the Tibetan situation with China, The South Sudanese conflicts, the massacre against the Nigerian Natives, the subsequent massacre against Muslims in Nigeria due to Boko Haram instigation, American policies of Gauntanemo and other likened facilities, Orania settlement in South Africa, the Ukraine situation and Putin’s role in it, the oppression North Korea carries out on their population, Xenaphobia in South Africa, Agrressive situations in Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other East African countries. If not merely to gather support from the less internationally aware sect in South Africa for his own cause and elevation?

    5. \”While the time and context of each of these systems may be different, the nature of racism and injustice remain very much the same.\”

    – I agree completely hear, which is why I would like to ask a few questions regarding Israel’s current status of equality, and please compare them in your mind to other middle east countries and Apartheid Era South Africa.

    A. Israeli Parliament includes many Woman, Christians, Jews, Drews, and Arabs.

    B. All races and religions are employed across the business spectrum in Israel, and not only in lower positions. 

    C. It is allowed to follow any religion you choose.

    D. Israel is treating injured Syrians by the thousands.

    E. Women, Men and all races/religions have the same legal rites, to own businesses ect.

    As a Historian, I see great worth and respect for educated people who take a plight which is not theirs and stand up for it. Much like you feel you are fighting for a cause, so did Israel’s Nobel Prize Winner Martin Buber, Author of \”Ich and Thou\” when he fought Against Apartheid, after he began communications with Albert Luthuli and Martin Luther King Junior, and began fighting for the release of Apartheid Prisoners in International Press, and with letters to the Union of South Africa. 

    While the present population may be blinded, or mislead, History will judge the evil, the wrong and misguided alike with a tainted memory. I urge you Mr. Kathrada, to revisit the Middle East situation Tabula Rasa, from Israel’s perspective, and study the complex situation in more depth. If in fact you are not anti-Semitic, you owe it to your name in History to fight for right, and better yet.. to understand which is right.

    And according the the quotes above, and other global atrocities, I urge you too, to look into their histories deeper. A situation cannot be resolved when neither party sees the other side, Gandhi did not achieve the Indian Relief Act of 1914 with Jan Smuts without seeing eye to eye. You have been mentioned together with some inspirational figures, and you owe it to their memory and legacy to amplify their aura, let the past be the past, lets all see each other as loving humans who want peace and work towards it.

    Sadly, in this current situation, you Mr. Kathrada have failed them, and humanity as you are promoting and empowering the wrong side and owe it to everyone to be more educated on a subject you speak on.

  4. Some One

    May 29, 2014 at 8:45 am

    ‘If Kathrada is such a vigilante for human rights, why the silence from him on the latest Boko Haram atrocity in Nigeria and the kidnapping of Christian girls?

    Just asking…’

  5. Myron Robinson

    Jun 13, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I concur that Kathrada
    has an unblemished record vis-à-vis Human Rights in the RSA etc. but what disturbs me is
    that whilst Israel is no angel & deserves at times a level of
    criticism, his criticism of Zimbabwe & other African & World
    despots for their Human Rights abuses in Africa & Asia (China in particular)
    is deafening by its silence.

    Similarly I have yet to read any criticism by Kathrada of Suicide Bombers in
    the Middle East & the gross Human Rights abuses by both sides in Syria.

    As is the usual trend the so called liberals & HR activists approbate
    & reprobate condemning only Israel but not the Palestinians for their HR
    violations. Also to compare the SA situation pre 1994 to the current situation
    vis-à-vis Israel & the Palestinians is a red herring that is used whenever
    Kathrada & his kind wish to condemn Israel.

    Us Jews will always be despised either because of success or the lack thereof,
    if we live in the Diaspora we are questioned why we are not in Israel & if
    in Israel we are criticised for occupying land that we stole from the
    Palestinians. Those critics who say we must go back to the 1967 borders will
    not rest their case should Israel do so. If we do not defend ourselves we are
    cowards & if we do so then we are a belligerent people.

    Whether we support
    Israel or not without Israel Jews will again become the world’s pariah nation.

  6. Ariel Ziv

    Jul 8, 2014 at 6:07 am

    ‘This might also interest many – Kathrada – no autonomy for Jews:

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