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Death of a Prominent Anti-Apartheid Activist

In 1955, the most prominent Asian South African anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Kathrada, was arrested for being in Bloemfontein, or the Free State, without a permit. Kathrada recalled that the head of police was unfamiliar with where to put him. NPR reports that “I’ve never seen an Indian in my life. I’ve got a cell for whites, I’ve got a cell for blacks. I don’t have a cell to put you,” the head of police told him.

Kathrada combated racial injustice throughout the anti-apartheid movement. On March 28, the anti-apartheid activist passed away from complications from a cerebral embolism at age 87. He died in Johannesburg at a medical center. His burial the next day was in accordance with Islamic rituals.

Kathrada’s life consisted of fighting to end the apartheid movement, a system of racial discrimination and segregation in South Africa. The institutionalized racism was prominent from 1948 to 1991 when abolition occurred.

Kathrada’s already prominent role in the political movement increased after he was arrested in 1955. NPR reports that at first, Kathrada followed the passive resistance movement. Next, he supported the African National Congress, which became a political party after it was established as a “struggle movement.” Finally, Kathrada founded an armed resistance movement in an attempt to overthrow the government to end the institutional racism.

Kathrada spent numerous decades in jail with Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon. In 1963, Kathrada was indicted and charged with attempts to “overthrow the government, start a guerilla war, and open the door to invasion by foreign powers,” according to New York Times (NYT). Mandela had been in prison since 1962 but faced additional charges at the Rivonia trial.

The Rivonia trial began in April 1964. During his three-hour long speech, Mandela “told the judge that he was ‘prepared to die’ for ‘the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” according to NYT. A total of eight defendants, two of whom being Mandela and Kathrada, were sentenced to life in prison on accounts of plotting a “violent revolution.”

While in prison, the group continued educating themselves on the revolution. NYT reports that they “deepened their conviction that only continued pressure, at home and abroad, would help bring about an end to apartheid.”

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