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

Page 10 of 10

Lessons Learned

Looking back at your life and the struggle you've endured, what are the lessons for other political prisoners who are incarcerated under other regimes, some of them as bad as the apartheid regime that you struggled under? Is it fair to ask you to sum up the lessons of your imprisonment?

Well again, we can only relate our experiences. And where there are prisoners in similar conditions, if our experiences can be a lesson to them, all the better. But we cannot presume to give them advice because circumstances differ in every country.

Let me ask you this then. This interview might be used for courses here at campus. Young people are the fount of idealism. And your struggles began with a lot of idealism and then posed obstacles for you that maybe even you didn't expect. How would you inform their education as they look to the future and think about political activity, think about things like the international struggle for human rights, and so on? How would you tell them to prepare for a world in which regimes like apartheid will exist, but also there will be individuals like yourself and Mandela who will struggle against them?

Well, I would say that if there are any lessons to be learned, it would be lessons for both sides. We realized when we launched the armed struggle in South Africa that there were very few instances in history where the armed struggle itself succeeded. Almost every armed struggle for liberation ended at the negotiating table. Our struggle, when we launched the armed struggle, we knew right from the start that we were not going to achieve a military victory over there anyway. Our armed struggle was aimed at forcing the enemy to the negotiating table. So, that's a part of the lesson for the people who are in the struggle. For the other side, for the governments, they must also realize that a just struggle must win sooner or later. The sooner oppressive regimes agree to come to the negotiating table, agree to negotiate with representatives of the struggling people, the sooner they do that the better, the less bloodshed, the less hardship, the less suffering, the better. Because every just struggle will end in victory. It may take years, but it must end in victory, any just struggle. And it's going to end at the negotiating table. There are really few examples that ended otherwise through victory.

One final question. Your life's work puts you at the cutting edge of dealing with problems of diversity, of groups of people with different backgrounds learning to live together. Any thoughts you would like to leave us with about that sometimes difficult problem? If in the end you come up with a solution, it is a very rewarding one.

The problems arise from ignorance, where people don't know one another thought isolation. Prior to apartheid, there were people living together in many suburbs. Not whites, but Indian, African, Coloured. And whites were adjacent. In many instances, they were playing together as kids. Came the Group Areas Act and they separated everybody. So they have to learn anew, because ideas and perceptions develop about one another in isolation. We have to re-educate people. And once there's contact, and once the ignorance about one another is broken, you've achieved a great deal toward success, toward living together. But you have to break down the ignorance among people. Then only do people realize that all human beings are that same. And that is where children are the most important. Children don't know color. They quarrel, they laugh, they play. They don't fight each other because of color. That's why our concentration has to be at the school level, at the childhood level.

Mr. Kathrada, thank you very much for sharing this hour with us. It's an extraordinary body of experience that you bring to our discussion and we're very fortunate to have had you here today. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much.

Thank you. And thank YOU very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

© Copyright 1996, Regents of the University of California

For more information on Ahmed Kathrada, see the description of the Ahmed M. Kathrada Collection housed at Michigan State University.

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