Former Robben Island inmate and Struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada reflects on on the Rivonia Trial at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory. 120614. Picture: Chris Collingridge 663

Johannesburg - Anti-apartheid stalwart and Rivonia trial-accused Ahmed Kathrada has made an impassioned plea to the youth to make the most of education opportunities to empower themselves.

He said young people should emulate his fellow Rivonia trial accused who, despite the tough conditions during their many years of incarceration on Robben Island, gained qualifications in various academic fields.

“We had a number of people who were illiterate and semi-literate, so there was a tremendous emphasis on education. Under very severe conditions, they studied,” Kathrada said on Thursday at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Joburg. He was speaking at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rivonia trial sentencing.

His remarks came ahead of Youth Day on Monday to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the Soweto youth uprising.

Kathrada was among a group of ANC leaders who were arrested in 1963, along with Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, James Kantor and Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein.

He appealed to the youth to “take advantage of education opportunities”.

He cited Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Dikgang Moseneke as among those who overcame adversity in prison to get educated.

“He (Moseneke) came to prison and left with a B Juris (degree). He was 15 (years old) when he came to prison and he studied, and today he is the deputy chief justice of the highest court in the country,” Kathrada said.

He also referred to President Jacob Zuma. “He came to prison with a Standard 2 (now Grade 4). He spent 10 years there and left without a certificate. But he got all the education informally from fellow prisoners. He left prison without a certificate, but an educated man. And that man is President Zuma.”

Asked why ANC leaders had been so forgiving after their release from Robben Island despite the cruelty they suffered under the apartheid regime, Kathrada said:

“That is a question that we have been asked over and over again…

“But bitterness, anger, revenge and hatred are negative emotions. The people who harbour those emotions suffer most than those who are hated. We can’t live by harbouring hatred. We can’t keep on hating them.

“Let’s rather bring them into the fold, in one way or the other, to come into movements that work for South Africa. We can’t live a life based on hatred and bitterness and revenge.”

He said while the government had achieved a lot since the dawn of democracy in 1994, many challenges still remained.

“I have heard of a lot of the shortcomings, but we always have to remember that we are only 20 years old.

“The biggest achievement is we got (back) our dignity as human beings.”

[email protected]

The Star