Ahmed Kathrada Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Alongside Nelson Mandela: Reminiscences of a former political prisoner under Apartheid; Conversation with Ahmed Kathrada, 11/8/96 by Harry Kriesler

Photo by S. Beth Atkin

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Background

Mr. Kathrada, welcome to Berkeley.

Thank you very much.

How did your family come to live in South Africa?

They came at the turn of the century, my father first and then my mother. What had happened is that, due to conditions in India, there was a small trickle of people from India coming into the country -- and once one comes, then he calls his family, then they call their families and friends. And that's how they arrived in South Africa. He was a vendor at first, and then he opened a little retail shop.

So you were born in South Africa.

I was born in South Africa, yes.

And as a very young person you became politically active. Tell us about that.

What had happened is that I was born in a rural area in what was known as the Transvaal Province. And under the racial laws of that time, because the Asian community was so small, there was no school for me. The laws did not allow me to go to the African school, nor to the white school. And I had to then go 200 miles to Johannesburg and stay there for schooling.

Did you stay there with other Asian families?

I stayed with a relative. At school I befriended young children of my age whose parents were already active in politics. And that's how we got swept in without any intellectual understanding of what we were going in for.

Next page: Political Career

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