Indian-origin activist shares memories of Mandela

Indian-origin South African activist Ahmed Kathrada, who along with Nelson Mandela was handed down long prison terms following the 1963 Rivonia Trial, has shared memories of the anti-apartheid icon and his undefeated spirit during the hard time.

IANS| Updated: Nov 28, 2013, 13:17 PM IST

Johannesburg: Indian-origin South African activist Ahmed Kathrada, who along with Nelson Mandela was handed down long prison terms following the 1963 Rivonia Trial, has shared memories of the anti-apartheid icon and his undefeated spirit during the hard time.

Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the trial at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria`s Church Square, where the original trial was held, Kathrada gave a graphic account of the time he spent there.

Kathrada, along with 10 leaders of the African National Congress, were sentenced during the trial for sabotage to overthrow the apartheid system.

He explained the dreaded 90-day detention law, in which prisoners were held in isolation with no contact at all with the outside world.

There were only constant threats of death from interrogators if the prisoner did not yield any information.

"You are sitting alone in your cell. The only thought is death. Make no mistake about it your thoughts are about yourself ? `am I going to die?`," Kathrada said.

He described how they saw Mandela at the trial after a year because he had already been sentenced in another trial.

"We saw him come there with short pants and sandals and he was a shadow of himself. He had lost a lot of weight in the year that he was in prison before us. But his spirit was there; as strong as ever."

He believes that the worldwide focus on the Rivonia Trial of 1963 that sent him, Mandela and others to Robben Island has drawn attention away from other significant political trials.

"I think that the Rivonia Trial has overshadowed many other trials, which is not consistent with the struggle in this country.

"What about the `Little Rivonia` trial in which Mac Maharaj was involved, and others?" Kathrada asked.

"Among the eight of us who were sentenced to life imprisonment, there were four of the most senior ANC leaders in the country - Madiba, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba - and it was great blessing to have them among us in the trial and (later) on Robben Island.

95-year-old Mandela, who spent 27 years in apartheid jail before becoming South Africa`s first black leader, has faced several health scares in recent month. His last hospital stay spanning over three months was his longest since he walked free in 1990.