Campus News

Legendary Anti-apartheid Activist Visits UK

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 7, 2011) —Nelson Mandela's parliamentary counselor, prison mate and friend -- considered the Thomas Jefferson of South Africa -- Ahmed Kathrada is coming to the University of Kentucky. 

The world-renowned anti-apartheid activist is an honored guest of UK's College of Arts and Sciences' yearlong initiative "Kentucky and South Africa, Different Lands, Common Ground." 

At 82 years old, Kathrada is a man of overflowing ideas, stories and experiences. And his visit to the East Coast and to UK is fittingly brimming with activity. 


Kathrada's four-day whirlwind stay in Lexington next week includes an honorary degree convocation from the university; the stateside opening of "Ahmed 'Kathy' Kathrada: A South African Activist for Non-Racialism and Democracy," an exhibit devoted to Kathrada and his work with non-racialism and democracy; an event at the Freedom Center in Cincinnati; and a book tour stop for Kathrada's newly released memoir, "No Bread for Mandela," published by the University Press of Kentucky, at Joseph Beth's at Lexington Green. 

Kathrada will also make time to speak with students, faculty and staff in a more intimate setting about his experiences and ideas. 

“I’ve had the great privilege to know Kathy for several years now,” said Mark Kornbluh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “His struggles and triumphs helped shape the development of a democratic South Africa and have played a role in the end of segregation laws and an oppressive apartheid regime. Kathy is an exceptional source of inspiration to the world and his visit will allow the UK community to learn more about his valuable contributions to society.” 

An anti-apartheid exhibit for all ages

"Ahmed 'Kathy' Kathrada: A South African Activist for Non-Racialism and Democracy" will be available for viewing 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. from April 18-May 31 in Lafferty Hall on UK's campus. The exhibit tells the story of the renowned advocate for freedom, as well as the anti-apartheid movement itself through the various lenses of the beloved "Kathy." 

With a focus ranging from food, film and fast cars to politics, policy and prose, the exhibit covers Kathrada's life and beliefs in a way that is sure to appeal to those unfamiliar with South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, as well as those more well-versed in history. 

"One exciting piece of the exhibit will be a replication of Kathy’s jail cell. Visitors will be able to experience the tiny cell and the few allowed items that Kathy lived with for more than 20 years," said Kientz. "What a great opportunity for students and the community to see living history." 

The exhibition was originally developed in South Africa for the occasion of Kathy’s 80th birthday by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Museum. The U.S. version of the exhibition, a joint production by UK and Michigan State University, provides insights into "Kathy" the individual, while honoring his commitment to non-racialism and democracy. 

“Kathy’s unrelenting devotion to South Africa and human rights is evident in all he does,” said Dean Kornbluh. “His outstanding intellectual and creative achievements, along with his excellent leadership abilities, will undoubtedly continue to inspire future generations.” 

The College of Arts and Sciences encourages students, faculty, staff and community members to visit an exhibit that is sure to educate audiences on the lives of political prisoners in South Africa, as well as challenge Kentuckians with Kathrada's ideas about "non-racialism" and democracy. 

Guided tours and weekend hours are available upon special request; contact Debbie Burton at or (859) 257-5821  to make arrangements. 

"No Bread for Mandela"

In "No Bread for Mandela: Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, Prisoner No. 468/64," Kathrada not only provides his own personal history, but also makes a significant addition to the history of South Africa and its struggle against the apartheid. In offering his account, Kathrada opens a window to the stories of other South African leaders, including Nelson Mandela. 

Kathrada’s memoirs, published by the University Press of Kentucky, begin with his recollections of his childhood, relating his first encounter with apartheid as his formal schooling began when he was 8 years old. Kathrada’s interest in politics began in Johannesburg at 10 years old when he met Yusuf Dadoo, a pivotal revolutionary leader in South Africa. Dadoo’s bold statements, courage, and far-sighted vision attracted Kathrada to political activism and later inspired him to join the movement. 

During the 1950s, Kathrada was an active member of the Indian National Congress which began to collaborate with the African National Congress. In 1960, the African National Congress was banned. Despite increasing pressure from the South African government and many detentions, Kathrada continued to work with ANC leaders. 

On July 11, 1963, Kathrada was arrested and placed on trial alongside Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Billy Nair, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba and Dennis Goldberg. 

"No Bread for Mandela" gives an insider’s perspective on what would come to be known as the Rivonia Trial, offering Kathrada’s behind-the-scenes knowledge of the testimonies, the legal counsel and the mindsets of the accused. 

In his memoirs, Kathrada shares the overwhelming relief felt by the revolutionaries as life sentences were handed out instead of the death penalty. Kathrada also explains in detail what life was like for the men as they served their sentences on Robben Island, showing how his treatment as an Indian differed from the restrictions Mandela and the other African leaders faced. 

In addition to historically documenting Kathrada’s life and struggle, "No Bread for Mandela" presents a message of equality and freedom that will resonate with generations to come. 

About the activist, author, friend and leader affectionately known as "Kathy"

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (or ‘Kathy’ as he is popularly known) was born in 1929 to Indian immigrants in a rural town in South Africa. It was during a period of racism and oppression of human rights in that country. 

Kathy was only 12 when he began a life of tireless activism for nonracialism and democracy. He was arrested several times and, along with eight friends and fellow activists including Mandela and Walter Sisulu, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the famous Rivonia Trial. He spent 26 years in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. 

Kathy was released from prison in 1989 and, in 1994, in the new democratic South African government, he was elected to the South African Parliament and served as President Mandela’s parliamentary counselor. Kathy is the recipient of numerous national and international awards, is a prolific author, and, while in prison, earned four university degrees. His exemplary leadership continues to inspire South Africans and others around the world to work for freedom, non-racialism, and democracy. 

Launched in August 2008, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation focuses on deepening non-racialism in society. The foundation aims to teach generations to come that non-racialism should be something society constantly strives for. 

"Kentucky and South Africa, Different Lands, Common Ground"

The unveiling of Kathrada’s memoirs, book tour and exhibit on campus are all a part of UK's South Africa Initiative. 

With the theme of "South Africa & Kentucky: Different Lands, Common Ground," UK’s College of Arts and Sciences has featured South African activists, scholars, politicians, art exhibits, performances and coursework throughout the 2010-2011 school year. 

Former South African health minister Barbara Hogan, a political activist in her own right, will be visiting campus with Kathrada. Hogan is most well-known for leading South African efforts to fight AIDS and advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention. In 2009, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. 

The South Africa Initiative provides the campus community as well as the general public with a closer look at the two societies’ rich histories and present-day conditions. For more information on "Kentucky and South Africa," visit

This brief film is a tribute to anti-apartheid hero Ahmed "Kathy" Kathrada by Artists for a New South Africa.