From left: Ahmed Kathrada, Zindzi Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa
October 7, 2009 – Nelson Mandela and Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada were honoured at a gala dinner at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg last night in recognition of their sacrifices and outstanding contribution to democracy, constitutionalism and human rights in South Africa.
“The Constitution Hill Trust wants to recognise two veterans of democracy in South Africa, Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada. Last year we honoured three people, Albertina Sisulu, Arthur Chaskalson and George Bizos, for the same contribution,” said the Chief Executive Officer of the Constitution Hill Trust, Dr Ivan May.
“This year we have decided to honour the men who made it all happen, Nelson Mandela and his very trusted lieutenant and very much unsung hero, and a humble icon, ‘Kathy’ Kathrada.”
As Mr Mandela has retired from public life, his daughter, Zindzi Mandela, accepted the award on his behalf. Before receiving the award she said: “As a family, we had many difficult years without Tata – we were a totally fragmented family. Tonight, it helps us to come full circle, to see that people still appreciate the role that he played. It’s important to document his legacy.”
Constitution Hill Trust Chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa said: “It goes without saying that these are two outstanding leaders in our country who contributed so much to the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights. They contributed with their lives. Mr Mandela said that he was prepared to die for the freedom we have today. If anyone deserves this award, it is Mr Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada. We are so happy to be doing it on a joint basis for them because they are friends. Madiba basically brought Kathy up.”
Ramaphosa noted that a country is seldom blessed to have such outstanding leaders – not only in the eyes of its people, but in the eyes of the world.
This thought was echoed by former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, who read the citation honouring Kathrada.
“It’s a very special moment for me to be asked to participate in honouring Kathy tonight,” he said. “He has played an extraordinary part in the struggle – he was born into the struggle, in a sense. At an early age he engaged in different aspects of seeking freedom for all of us.
“He endured arrests, harassment, banning orders and 26 years in prison – all for a cause which we now enjoy – our Constitution and the rights enshrined in it.
“It is a great honour for the trustees of the Constitution Hill Trust to honour Ahmed Kathrada with his close associate, Mr Mandela, and fitting that the awards be made on the same night.”
It is fitting too that Kathrada received this award just days before the 20th anniversary of his release from prison. Kathrada was released on October 15, 1989 from Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, where he had been held since being transferred from Robben Island in late 1982.
Typically humble, Kathrada chose to focus on others in the freedom struggle.
“Prison is not a pleasant place, but enough has been said about it. We should think of the people who did not survive to enjoy freedom,” he said. “We should honour the people who were imprisoned and tortured to death. We should also think of the people who were hanged, and those who were assassinated.
“Prison was hard and we suffered deprivations, but we did not have policemen who came to Robben Island and started shooting us – we were protected. Some people sacrificed more than us who are not here to enjoy this freedom.
“Thanks to the Constitution Hill Trust for this award. I dedicate it to those I’ve mentioned this evening,” said Kathrada.
In delivering the citation for Mr Mandela, Ramaphosa said that Mr Mandela and Kathrada are the only surviving accused of all three major trials of the anti-apartheid struggle – the 1952 Defiance Campaign Trial, the 1956 Treason Trial and the 1963 Rivonia Trial.
“Tonight we are awarding two stalwarts of our struggle, who have sacrificed so much and led us in the special way that they have. We are walking with history, with people who are able to tell us, word for word, about their experiences,” he said.
“This citation you all know well because you know the life of Mr Mandela. In living his life he has also lived our lives. As he has gone about the business of being a human being, he has also told us the story of our people and this country.
“We thank him for his life, for the sacrifices that he made and for the ultimate sacrifice that he was prepared to make. He sacrificed his freedom so that we could all benefit from our constitutional order.
“His legacy will live on beyond what we can imagine,” Ramaphosa said.
Zindzi Mandela proudly accepted the award on behalf of her father, reminding all present that he is 91 years old and retired from public life. “He has given so much – and I ask that you give him a gift in return and let him be,” she said.
Acknowledging the historic setting, she said Constitution Hill is indivisible from the struggle.
“I cannot separate the struggle for freedom from the birth of our new Constitution. As we gather tonight, we remember the legacy of those who survived those turbulent years and helped draft the new Constitution.
“We have an important task ahead of us – to fiercely guard our hard-fought-for freedoms. This is the greatest gift we can give to Tata [Mr Mandela] as custodians of his legacy,” she said.