Ahmed Kathrada. File photo: ANA
Ahmed Kathrada. File photo: ANA
Ahmed Kathrada and Laloo Chiba. File photo: Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
Ahmed Kathrada and Laloo Chiba. File photo: Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

Johannesburg - The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) on Sunday accused President Jacob Zuma of insulting the struggle icon’s lifelong activism.

"The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is repulsed at recent comments by President Jacob Zuma, which insinuate that anti-apartheid struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada was manipulated into writing the letter calling on the president to resign," AKF executive director Neeshan Balton said.

Similar comments were made by a guest on ANN7 immediately after Kathrada’s death in March this year, he said.

Zuma, in a recent interview with the SABC, questioned whether Kathrada had actually written the letter, and hinted that due to his age, he could have been manipulated into doing so. 

Read: Kathrada's letter to Zuma

This misrepresentation of facts to the South African public was a sad reflection of Zuma, who had simply dismissed Kathrada’s views as that of an old man who had lost his mind.

"False information that the letter was written by his [Kathrada's] wife Barbara Hogan, as retaliation for being removed from her post as a minister, has also been peddled previously. We reject these claims," Balton said.

Ahmed Kathrada and Laloo Chiba. File photo: Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

Kathrada finalised the letter on March 31, 2016 and had it sent to the presidency on April 1, 2016. It was only after Zuma's lack of acknowledgment of responsibility to the public for his actions during his subsequent address to the nation that Kathrada requested that the letter be made public.

"To hint that Kathrada was an old senile man, who was prone to being manipulated, is nothing short of an insult to the struggle icon’s lifelong activism. Kathrada was active, both mentally and physically, up until a month before he passed on. The many who had an opportunity to engage with him throughout 2016, leading up to early 2017, would attest to his sound mental health. This includes journalists, school children, university students, researchers, friends, family, neighbours, and fellow comrades," he said.

Zuma’s statements were also deeply hurtful to the struggle stalwart’s family, and the staff, the board, and management of the foundation who worked with Kathrada – activists who had always served and acted with the highest degree of integrity, and with great deference to the stalwart. While Kathrada would often seek advice from those around him, he ultimately made his own decisions, which were respected.  

"Perhaps the president may choose to ignore Kathrada’s own words about how painful it had been for him to write the letter, or that members of the foundation had seen Kathrada working on the draft versions. But what the president cannot ignore is the range of individuals who have called for his resignation," Balton said.
 
Zuma could not argue that the many ANC struggle stalwarts who gathered at Constitution Hill recently, calling for him to step down, were all too old to think for themselves. 

"Neither can he argue that the likes of Justice Zak Yakoob, Bonang Mohale, Kumi Naidoo, Ela Gandhi, Popo Molefe, Prema Naidoo, and Sheila Sisulu have all been manipulated into believing that he is not fit to lead the country."
 
Zuma could not accuse Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Reverend Giet Khoza, and the South African Council of Churches as a whole, together with a range of other religious leaders of various faiths, of being coerced into being critical of his government, Balton said.
 
That Kathrada’s fellow Rivonia Trialists Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg had not hesitated to share the dismay they felt at his presidency seemed to have slipped Zuma’s attention.
 
"But perhaps most painfully, president Zuma seems to have forgotten the letter written to him by Laloo Chiba, who passed away just a few days ago. Chiba, a man of impeccable integrity who served on Umkhonto we Sizwe’s second national high command, was Kathrada’s best friend and closest confidant. Had Chiba suspected that Kathrada was being forced into writing a particular letter, or that he was mentally unstable, he would never have shared the same sentiments as Kathrada, let alone allow the board of the foundation, on which he served, to stand by its publishing.
 
"President Zuma, your attempt to cast aspersion’s on Kathrada’s state of mind and his independence will not detract from the validity of the contents of his letter. Perhaps it would have been better had you read it and acted on the advice given," Balton said.

African News Agency (ANA)