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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MEMOIRS (article first published : 2004-12-8)

Recently published by Zebra Press is Memoirs by Ahmed Kathrada.

Ahmed Kathrada, who was born a shopkeeper’s son in the rural town of Schweizer-Reneke 75 years ago, devoted his life to the political struggle in South Africa and, after being sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial, spent 18 years on Robben Island.

There he became a close friend and confidante of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. When the hour of liberation came, after a total of 26 years in prison, he declined a Cabinet post and instead chose to oversee the Robben Island Museum project.

Obviously a man with this kind of history has a fascinating and absorbing story to tell. Others have told similar stories in their own way, most conspicuously Nelson Mandela himself (indeed, “Kathy”, as he is called, buried the original draft of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography in his garden patch on Robben Island until it could be smuggled to London).

What makes Mr Kathrada’s 400-page book a really good read, apart from the inside information, is his laconic detachment and his acute sense of humour. This is not a political polemic, it is a personal record. Mr Kathrada has strong views, certainly. He has been a communist all his life, and there is not much room for compromise in his political beliefs.

But he is not a bitter man, and the humour is what carries the book along, grim humour, if you like, but humour all the same. Such as the story of the prisoner whose black hair gradually went grey, to the concern of his colleagues, who thought he was suffering under torture or solitary confinement. They eventually found out that the dye in his hair was wearing out.

The book is well-written and well-organised, and one can only reflect sadly on the folly and badness of a system that kept such an obviously gifted man behind bars for so long.

Memoirs is published by Zebra Press and retails at R189,95 - Michael Green




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