Nelson Mandela Foundation

Ahmed Kathrada


Ahmed Kathrada was 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. He died in Johannesburg on 28 March 2017 and was born in Schweizer-Reineke on 21 August 1929.

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 Foundation until late 2016, when he retired. 


1929, 21 AugustAhmed Kathrada is born in Schweizer-Reneke, South Africa
1938Forced to leave his home where there was no Indian school, to attend school in Johannesburg
1941Joins the Young Communist League at the age of 12
1943His father dies
1945Joins the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress
1946Is jailed for one month in the Passive Resistance Campaign
1947Cancels his trip to the World Youth Festival in Prague after being hospitalised with a broken leg
1949Drives the Revered Michael Scott to Botswana
1950Clashes with Nelson Mandela over a planned strike
1951Registers 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
1952Is arrested for his role in the Defiance Campaign and charged with 19 others under the Suppression of Communism Act
1952, DecemberConvicted and sentenced to nine months hard labour suspended for two years
1954Is banned for the first time
1956Is arrested in a police swoop of 156 activists
1957Is issued with a five-year banning order
1957 to 1961Stands trial for treason
1961, 29 MarchIs among the final 28 accused acquitted of treason (including Wilton Mkwayi who had absconded during the trial and Elias Moretsele who died)
1962, AugustIs named as secretary of the “Free Mandela Committee”
1962, 22 OctoberWhile 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 NovemberNelson Mandela is sentenced to five years in prison
1963, MayGoes underground
1963, 9 OctoberAppears in court for the first time since his arrest with 10 other accused including Nelson Mandela
1963, 29 OctoberIs charged with 199 acts of sabotage
1963, 30 OctoberOne 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 NovemberA new indictment is introduced by the prosecution
1963, 25 NovemberThe 199 counts of sabotage are reduced to 193. The defence applies to quash the indictment
1963, 26 NovemberJudge De Wet dismisses the defence application
1963, 3 DecemberAll 10 accused plead not guilty to charges of sabotage
1964, 4 MarchJames Kantor is acquitted leaving nine accused on trial
1964, 20 AprilThe defence case begins with Nelson Mandela’s speech from the dock
1964, 11 JuneEight accused are convicted of sabotage. Rusty Bernstein is acquitted
1964, 12 JuneAll eight are sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour
1964, 13 JuneSeven of the men arrive on Robben Island. Denis Goldberg is held separately at Pretoria Prison because he is white
1968Completes his BA in History and Criminology
1972His mother dies
1975Prisoners on Robben Island have access to hot showers
1976Spends two weeks in traction for a back ailment
1976Completes his B Bibliography degree in African Politics and Library Science
1977Has his studies suspended because he helps Mandela with the memoirs he wrote secretly in prison. Mandela and Sisulu’s studies are also suspended
1982, 21 OctoberIs 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
1982Completes his BA Honours in History
1983Is made a patron of the United Democratic Front
1985Completes his BA Honours in African Politics with the dissertation The Radicalisation of Black Politics in South Africa 1900-1961
1988Is awarded Isithwalandwe, the highest honour bestowed by the ANC
1989, 10 OctoberWatches President FW de Klerk on television naming him among a group of prisoners to be freed
1989, 15 OctoberIs released from prison
1990Begins a relationship with activist and former political prisoner Barbara Hogan
1991Is elected on to the National Executive Committee of the ANC
1992Undertakes the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca on behalf of his late mother
1994, 27 AprilVotes for the first time in his life
1994Is appointed President Nelson Mandela’s Parliamentary Counsellor
1997Is elected chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council
1997Declines his nomination to the National Executive Committee of the ANC
1999Publishes his first book, Letters from Robben Island
1999, JuneIs awarded South Africa’s Order for Meritorious Service from President Mandela
1999Retires from Parliament
1999Is appointed by Nelson Mandela as a Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation
2002Receives an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Massachusetts
2002Receives an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Durban-Westville
2004Receives a Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Missouri
2004Publishes his autobiography Memoirs
2005Receives the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, by the President of India
2005Publishes his third book, A Free Mind, Ahmed Kathrada’s Notebook from Robben Island
2005Receives an Honorary Doctorate from Michigan State University
2006Steps down after one term as chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council
2008Establishes the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
2011Receives an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Kentucky
2012Receives the Freedom of the City of Johannesburg
2012Receives an Honorary Doctorate from Wits University
2014Marries Barbara Hogan
2015Receives an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Cape Town with Thuli Madonsela and Dikgang Moseneke
2015Receives the Freedom of the City of Sedibeng
2015Steps down as a Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation
2016Receives the Freedom of the City of London
2016Receives an award from South Africa Partners
2016, 21 AugustTurns 87
2017, 4 FebruaryPublishes his book Conversations with a Gentle Soul
2017, 28 MarchAhmed Kathrada dies in Johannesburg, aged 87