The Atlantic

The Quiet Death of an Anti-Apartheid Hero

The ghost of Ahmed Kathrada will haunt his corrupt successors.
Source: Mike Hutchings / Reuters

Uncle Kathy was the quiet one. In movies and TV shows depicting South Africa’s apartheid struggle, he stood in the shadows of A-listers like Nelson Mandela or Govan Mbeki, ready to offer a chunk of expository dialogue or a well-timed joke. Ahmed Mohamed “Uncle Kathy” Kathrada was, according to these reenactments, a background figure, a gnomic Leatherman tool employed by writers, and occasionally by actual South Africans, to advance the narrative of racial reconciliation and general lovey-dovey-ness. In truth, Kathrada was a fearless political activist and an expert organizer, dedicated to a non-racial Rainbowism that has become dusty and unhip in recent years. Last week, at the age of 87, he passed away following complications from a cerebral embolism.

On March 29, a perfect fall day in Johannesburg, thousands of the most powerful figures in South Africa gathered under a tent at West Park cemetery for Kathrada’s funeral. Many belonged to the African National Congress, the 104-year-old alliance of liberation movements and organized labor to which Kathrada had devoted the bulk of his political energies. The ANC, which employs Mandela’s smiling likeness as its unofficial

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min readFashion & Beauty
How Jeans Got Weird
It’s hard to imagine how a person could be better at wearing jeans than Rihanna. While the pop star is practically worshiped in fashion circles for her wardrobe’s endless variety, the one thing she clothes herself in nearly constantly is denim. Her r
The Atlantic3 min read
The Most Exciting Part of Terminator: Dark Fate Isn’t the Action
The latest reboot of the sci-fi series brings back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor—a character the audience can care about.
The Atlantic3 min readPolitics
A Symphony of Whistle-Blowers
William Taylor is the latest in a procession of Trump-administration officials to cry foul on the president.