Ten years ago, a group of activists close to anti-apartheid struggle veteran and former Robben Island prisoner, Ahmed Kathrada, suggested the formation of an organisation that would preserve the legacy of his generation.
There were concerns that the values of non-racialism and selfless leadership, as well as activism – especially amongst young people – was on the decline. The preservation of liberation history, it seemed, was becoming of increasing insignificance, and with it, the stories of so many who sacrificed so much for our democracy would simply be buried with the past.
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation was subsequently formed with the aim to deepen non-racialism, promote and preserve struggle history, uphold Constitutional values, and develop youth leadership and activism. Ten years later, the Kathrada Foundation remains an established organisation in the South African civil society terrain, and an important voice on critical issues affecting the country.
The Foundation conducts important work amongst young people, running a leadership programme aimed at getting them to engage with history and become anti-racism agents, and activists in whichever field they pursue.
Annually, the Foundation embarks on one of the most significant youth-driven door-to-door campaigns in Lenasia, South of Johannesburg. Young people from all backgrounds come together for Operation Winter Warm, which sees the collection of truckloads of clothing, blankets and non-perishable food items, which is then distributed to organisations catering for the underprivileged and victims of disasters such as shack fires.
In 2015, the Kathrada Foundation, together with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, spearheaded the formation of the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA). ARNSA now has over 60 affiliated organisations in different parts of the country which are committed to tackling racism. The idea behind the network is to capacitate local organisations to deal with racism in their communities, and ensure that tackling racism remains on the national agenda. Annually, ARNSA hosts an Anti-Racism Week from 14-21 March, a campaign aimed at creating mass awareness about how people can practically fight racism on a day-to-day basis. During this year’s campaign, the Foundation piloted the launch of a Racism Reporting App which allows people to report incidents of racism via their mobile phones.
The Foundation also conducts facilitative work in schools, universities, workplaces or communities where racial tensions flare up, responds to issues of racism raised in the media, and hosts lectures, discussions and seminars on racism, identity, and social cohesion.
During the latter part of his life, Kathrada expressed dismay at the political developments in the country, characterised by widespread corruption. The South African state had been captured, and Kathrada drafted an open letter to then President Jacob Zuma, urging him to step down in the interest of the country.
The Foundation later played a pivotal role in the formation of Future South Africa, a coalition of civil society organisations against state capture. Future South Africa participated in various initiatives aimed at fighting corruption and state decay, and placed emphasis on the importance of accountable and selfless leadership.
On 28 March 2017, Ahmed Kathrada passed away and was buried at the West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg. He left behind a rich legacy, as well as an archive of information about his life, as well as the broader liberation struggle – from historical letters and photos, to video recordings and artefacts – much of which is housed by the Foundation. Other anti-apartheid stalwarts have also deposited their historical documents and items with the Foundation.
Over and above this, the Foundation has sought to bring the stories of anti-apartheid struggle activists alive by conducting oral history interviews, commemorating historical dates, screening films, producing booklets and opinion articles on their lives, and conducting visits to key historical sites with young people.
South Africa will next year mark 25 years of democracy. If anything, the deep-seated challenges that remain entrenched in society – among them inequality, racism and youth-related issues – should indicate to all South Africans the need to continue the struggle where Kathrada and his generation left off.
The current socio-economic and political challenges that we face send a strong message daily to civil society organisations like the Foundation that, unless we stand up for our Constitutional values, unless we do our bit to tackle issues head-on, unless we have the resources and support of the public do to so, and unless we encourage people to be active citizens and join our cause, we stand a chance of facing major setbacks to our country’s democratic gains. The future of this country is our collective responsibility.
The Foundation urges people to visit its social media pages to learn more about its work and how they can contribute to it in order to continue the legacy of the Kathrada generation.
Click here to make a donation to the Foundation.
This is the nineteenth NGO profile of my #NGOs4Africa Campaign.