Mr Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Kathrada is a veteran anti-apartheid activist who was jailed for life on 12 June 1964, along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni.

Released on 15 October 1989, he went on to become a Member of Parliament after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. He served one five-year term, during which he also acted as Mr Mandela’s Parliamentary Counsellor.

Mr Kathrada was chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council from its inception until his term expired in 2006. The author of four books, Mr Kathrada is also the recipient of four honorary doctorates and Isithwalandwe, the highest award the African National Congress can bestow on an individual. He established the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in 2008.

Mr Kathrada served as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundaton until late 2016, when he retired. 


1929, 21 August Ahmed Kathrada is born in Schweizer-Reneke, South Africa
1938 Forced to leave his home where there was no Indian school, to attend school in Johannesburg
1941 Joins the Young Communist League at the age of 12
1943 His father dies
1945 Joins the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress
1946 Is jailed for one month in the Passive Resistance Campaign
1947 Cancels his trip to the World Youth Festival in Prague after being hospitalised with a broken leg
1949 Drives the Revered Michael Scott to Botswana
1950 Clashes with Nelson Mandela over a planned strike
1951 Registers at the University of the Witwatersrand, but drops out to attend the World Youth Festival in Berlin and to work at the World Federation of Democratic Youth in Budapest
1952 Is arrested for his role in the Defiance Campaign and charged with 19 others under the Suppression of Communism Act
1952, December Convicted and sentenced to nine months hard labour suspended for two years
1954 Is banned for the first time
1956 Is arrested in a police swoop of 156 activists
1957 Is issued with a five-year banning order
1957 to 1961 Stands trial for treason
1961, 29 March Is among the final 28 accused acquitted of treason (including Wilton Mkwayi who had absconded during the trial and Elias Moretsele who died)
1962, August Is named as secretary of the “Free Mandela Committee”
1962, 22 October While attending Mandela’s trial for inciting workers and leaving the country without a passport, he is served with a notice putting him under house arrest. He became the second person in South Africa to be placed under house arrest, nine days after Helen Joseph
1962, 7 November Nelson Mandela is sentenced to five years in prison
1963, May Goes underground
1963, 11 July  
1963, 9 October Appears in court for the first time since his arrest with 10 other accused including Nelson Mandela
1963, 29 October Is charged with 199 acts of sabotage
1963, 30 October One of the accused, Bob Hepple, is discharged and he flees the country. The indictment against the remaining 10 accused is quashed. They are immediately rearrested
1963, 12 November A new indictment is introduced by the prosecution
1963, 25 November The 199 counts of sabotage are reduced to 193. The defence applies to quash the indictment
1963, 26 November Judge De Wet dismisses the defence application
1963, 3 December  All 10 accused plead not guilty to charges of sabotage
1964, 4 March James Kantor is acquitted leaving nine accused on trial
1964, 20 April The defence case begins with Nelson Mandela’s speech from the dock
1964, 11 June Eight accused are convicted of sabotage. Rusty Bernstein is acquitted
1964, 12 June All eight are sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour
1964, 13 June Seven of the men arrive on Robben Island. Denis Goldberg is held separately at Pretoria Prison because he is white
1968 Completes his BA in History and Criminology
1972 His mother dies
1975 Prisoners on Robben Island have access to hot showers
1976 Spends two weeks in traction for a back ailment
1976 Completes his B Bibliography in African Politics and Library Science
1977 Had his studies suspended because he helped Mandela with the memoirs he wrote secretly in prison. Mandela and Sisulu’s studies were also suspended
1982, 21 October Is transferred to Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison on the mainland where he joins Mandela, Sisulu, Mlangeni and Mhlaba who were transferred six months earlier. On the same day, Barbara Hogan, whom he later married, is sentenced to 10 years in prison for treason
1982 Completes his BA Honours in History
1983 Is made a patron of the United Democratic Front
1985 Completes his BA Honours in African Politics with the dissertation The Radicalisation of Black Politics in South Africa 1900-1961
1988 Is awarded Isithwalandwe the highest honour bestowed by the ANC
1989, 10 October Watches President FW de Klerk on television naming him among a group of prisoners to be freed
1989, 15 October  Is released from prison
1990 Begins a relationship with activist and former political prisoner Barbara Hogan
1991 Is elected on to the National Executive Committee of the ANC
1992 Undertakes the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca on behalf of his late mother
1994, 27 April Votes for the first time in his life
1994 Is appointed President Nelson Mandela’s Parliamentary Counsellor
1997 Is elected chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council
1997 Declines his nomination to the National Executive Committee of the ANC
1999 Publishes his first book, Letters from Robben Island
1999, June Is awarded South Africa’s Order for Meritorious Service from President Mandela
1999 Retires from Parliament
1999 Is appointed by Nelson Mandela as a Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation
2002 Receives an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Massachusetts
2002 Receives an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Durban-Westville
2004 Receives a Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Missouri
2004 Publishes his autobiography Memoirs
2005 Receives the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, by the President of India
2005  Publishes his third book, A Free Mind, Ahmed Kathrada’s Notebook from Robben Island
2005 Receives an Honorary Doctorate from Michigan State University
2006 Steps down after one term as chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council
2008 Establishes the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
2011 Receives an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Kentucky
2012 Receives the Freedom of the City of Johannesburg
2012 Receives an Honorary Doctorate from Wits University
2014 Marries Barbara Hogan
2015 Receives an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Cape Town with Thuli Madonsela and Dikgang Moseneke
2015 Receives the Freedom of the City of Sedibeng
2015 Steps down as a Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation
2016 Receives the Freedom of the City of London
2016 Receives an award from South Africa Partners
2016, 21 August  Turns 87
2017, 4 February Publishes his book Conversations with a Gentle Soul

Nelson Mandela in conversation with Ahmed Kathrada