In June 1964, Ahmed Kathrada, along with Nelson Mandela, was sentenced
to life in prison during the famed Rivonia Trial for sabotage against
the South African government. He was the only Indian among the famed
Rivonia 7 convicted. Kathrada is a major figure in the history and
shaping of the new South Africa. On Wednesday night, I had the honor
and privilage of co-hosting a reception to launch Ahmed Kathrada’s new
It was the second time I met Mr. Kathrada, a living hero who to me
represents truth, justice, forgiveness and the hope that peace and
reconciliation is a possibility.
My first encounter with him was during a visit to South Africa
several years ago when Mr. Kathrada was gracious enough to host several
of my classmates from Business School and me to Robben Island. This
event is one of the most memorable ones in my life. “Kathy”, as he is
referred to, took us through the prison, telling us about his daily
life with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and the many other heros of
the anti-apartheid movement. It was a rivoting day to hear about the
torture, the political planning, the games, the thrills, the fight for
basic rights, and the deaths that they faced over two decades in
prison. He told us about going over twenty years and not seeing
children or hearing their laughter.
And most remarkable to me was his sentiment of forgiveness. He writes in Memoirs:
While we will not forget the brutalities of apartheid, we will
not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering.
We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces
of evil; a triumph of the wisdom and largeness of spiritu against small
minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human
frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.
Nelson Mandela has written about Kathrada saying: