Ahmed Kathrada funeral: South Africa’s Zuma asked to stay away

This file photo taken on July 16, 2012 shows Ahmed Kathrada, anti-apartheid activist and close friend of former South African President Nelson Mandela poses in his house in Johannesburg. Kathrada was sentenced with Mandela to life imprisonment on June 12, 1964Image copyright

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Ahmed Kathrada spent more than 26 years in prison

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is not attending the funeral of veteran anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada at the request of his family.

Mr Kathrada called on Mr Zuma to resign last year after he became mired in a series of corruption scandals.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is representing the government at the funeral.

Mr Kathrada, 87, died on Tuesday. He was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela for fighting against white minority rule.

He spent more than 26 years in prison before his release in 1989. He later served as an adviser to then-President Mandela in South Africa’s first democratically elected government.

Mr Zuma had ordered the national flag to fly at half-mast following his death and and had postponed a cabinet meeting so that officials could attend the funeral.

However, Mr Zuma would not attend either the funeral or a memorial service to be held later this week “in compliance with the wishes of the family,” a government statement added.

Mr Katharada’s wife, Barbara Hogan, is known to be a fierce critic of Mr Zuma.

Mr Kathrada asked Mr Zuma to resign after South Africa’s highest court ruled that he had breached the constitution by failing to repay government money used to upgrade his private rural home in Nkandla.

The veteran anti-apartheid activist is being buried according to Muslim rites in South Africa’s main city, Johannesburg.

Milton Nkosi, BBC News, Johannesburg: Why has Zuma been snubbed?

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The request to Mr Zuma not to attend the the funeral suggests that family and friends of the anti-apartheid veteran want to distance themselves from the scandal-hit president.

Mr Zuma’s allies – especially youth leader Collen Maine – launched a sustained attack on veterans like Mr Katharada, after they raised concern about his leadership and the corruption in government.

South Africa’s former high commissioner to the UK, Cheryl Carolus, told me: “It’s just a shame to imagine that in the last few years, even weeks and months, he [Mr Kathrada] was subjected to the most outrageous vitriol from kids who weren’t even born when he went to jail – and that other elders in our ranks actually allowed that”.

So the absence of the 74-year-old Mr Zuma – who spent about a decade on the notorious Robben Island prison with Mr Kathrada – from the funeral can only be described as a snub.

Why was Kathrada jailed?

Media captionAhmed Kathrada spoke to the BBC about apartheid in 2014

Mr Kathrada spent more than 26 years in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island, where Mr Mandela was also jailed.

He was arrested in 1963, along with several others, at a farm in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia. They had been meeting there in secret to plan the armed struggle against the apartheid government.

The following year Mr Kathrada was found guilty of conspiring to commit acts of violence. Seven other defendants, including Mr Mandela, were also convicted of conspiracy and three other charges.

They all received life sentences and most went on to spend the majority of their time in jail on Robben Island.

Under apartheid, even prisoners were treated differently depending on their racial origin: White prisoners got the most privileges, followed by those of Indian origin, while black people got the least.

Mr Kathadra refused to accept his privileges unless they were also extended to his black comrades.

In 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor prison on the mainland, from where he was freed in 1989.

After South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, President Mandela persuaded Mr Kathrada to join him in government as his political adviser.

Mr Kathrada left parliament in 1999, but remained active in politics,

He went on to chair the Robben Island Museum Council, set up to preserve the prison as part of South Africa’s heritage.

A life of struggle

Media captionWhat was apartheid? A 90-second look back at decades of injustice

Mr Kathrada was the fourth of six children born in the North West Province, previously known as Western Transvaal.

He was a campaigner from a young age and joined the Young Communist League at the age of 12.

He later became a member of the Transvaal Indian Congress, which spearheaded campaigns against laws that discriminated against Indians, and joined their protests at 17.

In 1952, he received a suspended sentence for helping to organise an anti-apartheid defiance campaign, with black activists including Mr Mandela and Walter Sisulu.

Four years later he was charged with high treason, but was acquitted after a long trial.

In 1962 he was placed under house arrest and then took his activities underground to work with the military wing of the African National Congress.

Pain ‘same as Mandela’

Media captionWinnie Madikizela-Mandela : ‘I am grieved at his passing’

Fellow anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has been reflecting on the news of Mr Kathrada’s death.

“I’m experiencing the same pain I was experiencing at the death of Madiba [ex-husband Nelson Mandela]. When Madiba passed on, part of his soul was left in Kathy, he was just an extension of our family.

“So, the pain is the same, and somehow it feels like a closure of a chapter in history.

“A very painful chapter, of men and women who dedicated themselves to this country, who fought for their values and principles they thought we’d instil in our society.”

Ahmed Kathrada funeral: South Africa’s Zuma asked to stay away