Ahmed Kathrada has been so much part of my
life over such a long period that it is inconceivable that I could allow him to
'write his memoirs without me contributing something, even if only through a
brief foreword. Our stories have become so interwoven that the telling of one
without the voice. of the other being heard somewhere
would have led to an incomplete narrative.
Kathy's contribution to our liberation struggle and
to our movement is well known and well documented. His courage and his
commitment to his comrades are legendary. His mature wisdom was an important
ingredient of our deliberations and discussions.
What further distinguished him was that he, together
with a few other comrades, was an important depository of organisational
memory. It is important that the history of our struggle and of our movement be
recorded as fully and with all the different perspectives and nuances. Kathy
was always analysing and trying to understand, even while he was an active
After our release from prison he,
characteristically, became involved in archival, historical and legacy projects
about the liberation movement. Few others have spent as much time and energy on
tracing and finding the masses of files and other material from the police and
prison authorities, providing a rich base for future research and writing. He
was instrumental in establishing and driving the Robben
Island Museum project.
It is fitting that he now writes his own memoirs,
giving us all the benefit of his remarkable memory about events and periods in
which he was actively and centrally involved.
I, for one, look forward to
reading his memoirs. He had been of so much assistance to me in the writing of my own. I am
eager to read his independent version of the events and times that we shared.
These memoirs serve to fulfil a promise I made to
myself while I was in prison. It was prompted by the dearth of information on
important events in liberation history, and the realisation that much, if not
most, of what had been published in books, newspapers and magazines was incomplete
or riddled with error and distortion.
Circumstances placed me in the unique position of
having uninterrupted access to the memory of my comrade and mentor, Waiter Sisulu, who was acknowledged as the living authority on the
This book is by no means an effort to fill the void.
Far from it. It would be presumptuous of me to even
think so. My memoirs make no claim to being a documented
history, nor is this my autobiography, both of which would demand
serious research and qualified writers.
This volume is no more than what I remember, from my childhood,
through the years of the struggle in which I was one of thousands of
participants, my prison. years, and the ushering in of
democracy. Naturally, there has been some reference to books and libraries,
largely in attempts to confirm some of my hazier recollections, but this is not
an academic book, nor was it intended to be.
I came out of prison at the age of sixty, having
spent almost half of my adult life behind bars. In compiling my memoirs, I
tried to resist the (understandable) temptation to overplay my prison
experience by placing it in context between my rural childhood and political
events that preceded the Rivonia Trial,
and those that happened twenty-six years later.
Any account of life behind bars must
needs include stereotypical images of forbidding grey walls and barred
windows, austere, cold cells, inedible food and inhumane punishment, manifold
deprivation and man-made efforts to strip one of all dignity and self-respect.
My experience was no different, but the picture of
political prisoners was one of 'great warmth, fellowship and friendship, humour
and laughter; of strong convictions and a generosity of spirit and compassion,
solidarity and care. It is a picture of continuous learning, of getting to know
and live with your fellow beings, their strengths as well as their
idiosyncrasies; but more important, where one comes to know one's self, one's
weaknesses, inadequacies and potential. Unbelievably, it is a very positive,
confident, determined yes, even a happy community,"
In 1993, I was invited to open the Robben Island Exhibition organised by the Mayibuye Centre. My concluding remarks were: '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 spirit 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.'
This remains the message that the Robben Island Museum Council and its staff try to convey
through all our activities, publications and personal interaction with the
Foreword by Nelson Mandela
Foreword by Arthur Chaskalson
PART I: EARLY LIFE OF A 'SABOTEUR'
The Dadoo Factor
Knows No Boundaries
of the People, Permits and Prison
Stand By Our Leaders
Roads and Low Ebbs
PART II: ANOTHER TERRAIN OF THE STRUGGLE
The Rivonia Trial
Stealth and Subterfuge
Steps to Freedom
Crime Against Humanity
PART III: THE -END OF THE LONG WALK
Brave New World
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