In our sequence of letters from African journalist, Elizabeth Ohene appears to be like again on the time she met the late South African anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada after he was free of jail.
This previous week in Johannesburg there was a funeral I wanted I had been in a position to attend.
Ahmed Kathrada, well-known African Nationwide Congress (ANC) activist and South African statesman, was laid to relaxation. The well-deserved tributes to the person, affectionately often known as Kathy, who died on the age of 87 have been delivered.
It was not the politics surrounding the funeral, with President Jacob Zuma being requested to remain away, that was the primary attraction for me, despite the fact that I need to confess I’d not have minded being there to listen to a few of the speeches.
I’d merely have preferred to be there to be a part of an occasion that may mark the closure for a journey that began for me on 15 October 1989 within the Soweto township.
I used to be on my first reporting journey to South Africa for the BBC and, after having been denied a visa for greater than two years, I used to be lastly granted one after the intervention of the redoubtable anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman.
As issues turned out, it was the right time to have arrived within the nation.
“I keep in mind Ahmed Kathrada telling me he was making an attempt to get used to being seen as an previous man when all through his political activist days and in jail, he was all the time ‘the younger man’.”
Per week after I acquired there, it occurred. The long-expected opening of the prisons to let loose the leaders of the liberation actions began with none warning.
That was the day, no, the night time that Ahmed Kathrada and a few of his colleagues had been launched from jail after 26 years.
I used to be in Walter Sisulu’s dwelling in Soweto when he was introduced dwelling in the midst of the night time.
Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Raymond Mhlaba jailed after the notorious Rivonia trials had been additionally launched together with Wilton Mkwayi, one of many leaders of the ANC’s armed wing, Oscar Mpetha, the veteran ANC and South African Communist Celebration chief within the Cape, and Japhta Masemola, a Pan Africanist Congress chief.
Their launch was greeted with scenes of untamed celebration across the nation.
Over the following fortnight, I met and interviewed nearly all of them of their properties and thus began my intense relationship with South African politics.
I had no alternative, after all, however to comply with the journeys of these males from then on.
I keep in mind I had this eerie feeling that they, having survived so a few years of jail underneath tough situations, won’t final very lengthy within the outdoors world in South Africa.
Dealing with change
In my interview with Raymond Mhlaba, he talked concerning the difficulties of adjusting to the modified nation he and his fellow inmates had been launched into.
He made a joke about how ironic it will be if he ought to survive Robben Island all these years solely to be killed making an attempt to cross the highway in Port Elizabeth.
Twenty-six years earlier, on the time he went into jail, there have been only a few vehicles on the roads he advised me.
Jafta Masemola was the primary to die in a visitors accident just a few months after gaining his freedom.
I watched the funeral of Walter Sisulu on tv from Accra and I used to be relieved he had survived to a grand previous age.
I keep in mind Ahmed Kathrada telling me he was making an attempt to get used to being seen as an previous man when all through his political activist days and in jail, he was all the time “the younger man”.
When the information of his loss of life was introduced final week, I had a fleeting concept of going to his funeral however then as he was a Muslim, it was unlikely I might make it to South Africa earlier than he can be buried.
Then I assumed to myself that at the same time as a Muslim, if he had been a Ghanaian, we might have discovered a method to preserve his physique within the morgue for just a few days no less than earlier than burial.
That will have supplied the chance for previous quarrels to be settled and contemporary ones to erupt.
There would have been time for some folks to go to court docket to insist that President Zuma be allowed to attend the funeral.
We’d have had time to order a particular material for the funeral and a few enterprising people would have ordered particular t-shirts from China.
However earlier than I might get my head across the risk that this one of many final of these males who had been launched on 15 October 1989, the funeral was over.
I’m wondering if South Africa right this moment was the one all of us dreamed of in these heady days when the not possible occurred and Ahmed Kathrada and his buddies got here dwelling.
I really feel privileged to have been a part of it.
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