Johannesburg (PTI): Ahmed Kathrada, South Africa’s revered Indian-origin anti-apartheid icon, was laid to rest here on Wednesday with political stalwarts hailing him as “incorruptible” at his funeral which President Jacob Zuma skipped according to the wishes of the activist’s family.
Kathrada, who was one of Nelson Mandela’s closest aides, died yesterday aged 87 at the Donald Gordon Hospital here after complications following a brain surgery.
Kathrada, who spent 26 years and 3 months in prison, including 18 years on the infamous Robben Island, was buried according to Muslim rites in the Heroes Acre section of the Westpark cemetery here.
He became the first person of Indian-origin to be interred in the area demarcated for national leaders.
The coffin bearing the body of the ANC stalwart was draped in the party’s flag. Muslim prayers were said prior to Kathrada’s body leaving the mosque for Westpark Cemetery where he was laid to rest.
Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela, 80, attended the special official funeral accorded to Kathrada.
However, President Zuma did not attend the funeral of Kathrada, who in recent years had become fiercely critical of the government.
“President Zuma will not attend the funeral and memorial service in compliance with the wishes of the family,” the president’s office said in a statement.
However, Shan Balton, Executive Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which organised the funeral, said no invitations had been issued and it had been made clear that the funeral was open to everyone.
Former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe also attended the funeral service along with almost the entire cabinet of President Zuma, including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma, in a statement, lauded Kathrada saying, “The nation has lost one of its valuable and most respected freedom fighters.”
“The passing of Mr Kathrada is a monumental loss not only to his family but to all South Africans as he was one of the fearless and dedicated architects of the free and democratic South Africa,” Zuma said.
“He sacrificed his personal freedom and persevered through hardships for the liberation of all South Africa and to create a democratic, non-racial, peaceful and prosperous South Africa,” the President said.
Kathrada had openly criticised Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) government.
Last year, Kathrada had written an open letter to Zuma, urging him to quit.
“I know that if I were in the president’s shoes’ I would step down with immediate effect,” the letter had said.
“Today I appeal to our president to submit to the will of the people and resign,” it said.
Rich tributes were paid to Kathrada at the funeral service with ANC stalwarts and top officials lauding Kathrada’s contribution to the country.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe described Kathrada as a model leader who had integrity.
Speaking at Kathrada’s funeral at the Westpark Cemetery here Mantashe said Kathrada was “incorruptible not only in his politics but also in his personal life”.
“He was a man you knew who would never let you down he would never do something behind your back and never deceive you. You always knew where you stood with him. Sometimes his words were harsh and hurtful but they were never dishonest,” Mantashe said.
Speaker after speaker highlighted Kathrada’s life-long commitment to defeating the white minority apartheid government.
Gauteng Provincial Premier David Makhura said Kathrada had been a major player in the transformation of South Africa for the past 75 years.
“Comrade Kathy was part of that special generation of South Africans who devoted their lives faithfully and single-mindedly to just one mission — freedom in their lifetime,” Makhura said.