Amid the politics, quiet mourning for Uncle Kathy

Hundreds of South Africans gathered at the West Park cemetery to pay tribute to renowned anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Kathrada. Speakers commended his character, took lessons from his life and legacy, and mourned the state of the African National Congress (ANC). Uncle Kathy was laid to rest on Wednesday afternoon. He had passed away early on Tuesday morning at the age of 87.

Uncle Kathy’s funeral service was sombre and heartwarming. At times, it was also politically charged.The event was teeming with South Africa’s bigwigs, the scene was set with blue light brigades, security, and police.  Family, friends, activists, politicians, and religious leaders all gathered under a massive white tent to celebrate his life and mourn his passing.

Hamza Saloojee (21), a young marshall, had been directing the crowds before the service. He stood alone outside the tent during the speeches commemorating Kathrada. Saloojee was on his phone when we interrupted him and asked him what Uncle Kathy meant to him.

“Uncle Kathy was like a union in South Africa and I think that we as young people can learn so much from him, from his humility and leadership. Uncle Kathy knew my family, and although I was not close to him, from what I could tell, he was a very friendly person and a leader. What today’s youth can take from him, especially in leadership and politics, is his honesty. I think that’s what the young leaders of today lack; leadership. We need people to drive us in the right direction,” he said.

Many young people were inspired by Uncle Kathy and came to the funeral to pay their respects. Comedian Joey Rasdien (41), was one of them. Dressed in religious attire, with his trademark afro covered by a Muslim prayer cap, Rasdien was almost unrecognisable, except that people kept stopping him to greet him and ask for pictures.

Rasdien told us he’d known Uncle Kathy.

“I met uncle Kathy, about four or five times, he’s very funny. If you look at the example he set, it was calmness, it was truthfulness, it was clear thinking. When he spoke, he made sense. It was never a sense that he was pushing an agenda, besides the agenda of non-racialism, non-sexism. He surrounded himself with like-minded people, and supported those like-minded people when they needed the support. But he also stood up when he saw that something was wrong. He stood up against Madiba, and he stood up against Sisulu … and Zuma. When certain things needed to be done, he was the one who was like, ‘Look here guy, the armed struggle is going to be the way to go,’ type vibe. He was never a grey area, and that’s important. There’s very few people in the world whose judgement can be so pure, not clouded by money and assets and power and capitalism.”

Despite being an anti-apartheid icon, Uncle Kathy was known to be a very accessible person. Almost everyone we spoke to had met him at one point or another. Ayesha Sindi (25) was solemn. She told The Daily Vox that Uncle Kathy was a close friend of the family and that he would have been pleased with the funeral service that had been held for him.

“The Kathradas are good family friends of ours for many years and we knew Uncle Kathy personally as well. It means a lot to be here to pay our respects. I think everyone, of course, wanted to be here. It’s a very emotional event and the crowd that showed up has been amazing. The fact that it was interfaith, the tributes, were really amazing. I think he would have been proud of the way that things went here and I think he would’ve been happy with everything that was said,” she said.

Sindi’s belief that Uncle Kathy would have been happy with the way his funeral service had turned out was reassuring. The crowds were thinning as guests either joined the traffic jam trying to leave the cemetery or made their way to the gravesite to watch Uncle Kathy being laid to rest.

Prince Nkosi (59) didn’t get to attend the service. He was directing traffic near the exit when we spoke to him. Nkosi was despondent about the legacy of the current ANC.

“Today was the funeral of our most great leader, the greatest – behind Mandela – Ahmed Kathrada … Many, many people are here and you can see by their faces that we have lost. Even me, myself, I joined the ANC because of that first generation – not this one. I joined because of such people like Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, you name them. But they have all left us. And now we are left with this. We, people on the ground, they have rendered us powerless. So the only weapon that we have now, is a pen to make an X when we are going to vote. Because you see, we are a democracy, mos. That is the only weapon.”

Additional reporting by Mihlali Ntsabo

Featured image by Rumana Akoob

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