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Ahmed Kathrada (1929 - 2017)

Getty Images / AFP / Stephane De Sakutin

Ahmed Kathrada (1929 - 2017)

Ahmed Kathrada, the South African anti-apartheid activist who was imprisoned for many years along with his close friend, former South African President Nelson Mandela, for resisting the apartheid system of white domination, died Tuesday, March 28, 2017, according to his foundation. He was 87.

“The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is deeply saddened to announce the passing on of ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada (87) this morning, at the Donald Gordon Hospital in Johannesburg,” said a news release posted on the foundation’s website. “Kathrada passed away peacefully after a short period of illness, following surgery to the brain.”

South Africa's current president, Jacob Zuma, ordered flags around the country to be flown at half-staff. Zuma praised Kathrada as a "stalwart of the liberation struggle for a free and democratic South Africa.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu also praised Kathrada in a news statement:

"The struggle denied Ahmed Kathrada the opportunity to have children of his own; he was first imprisoned at the age of 17. But many South Africans looked up to him as a favorite grandparent," Tutu said.

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Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, aka Kathy, was born Aug. 21, 1929, in Schweizer-Reneke, Transvaal Province, South Africa, to an Indian Muslim family.

He became a political activist as a 12-year-old, joining the Young Communist League of South Africa.

He met leaders of the African National Congress including Nelson Mandela during the late 1950s. Activities of the ANC were banned in 1960, but Kathrada persisted until he went underground in early 1963 to avoid multiple detentions for anti-government activities.

In late 1963, government authorities charged Kathrada, Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other with sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government by violent means. In June 1964, the trial ended, and Kathrada, Mandela, and the others were sentenced to life in prison.

Kathrada served 18 years in prison before he was released. After prison, he served on committees of the ANC, which had been unbanned in February 1960.

In 1994, blacks were allowed to vote for the very first time. Kathrada won election as a member of parliament for the ANC. In September 1994, he was named a political adviser to President Mandela. Kathrada served until June 1999, when he left parliamentary politics.

Kathrada’s foundation continues to work to promote “the values, rights and principles enshrined in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.”

Kathrada is survived by his life partner, Barbara Hogan, a former minister of Health and Public Enterprises in the South African Cabinet.

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