Our fi­nal good­byes

CityPress - - Ahmed Kathrada (1929-2017) - MSINDISI FENGU msindisi.fengu@city­press.co.za

‘Grow­ing up as a child, my dad al­ways spoke about his brother in pri­son. As a child, you ask a lot of ques­tions. It’s al­ways nat­u­ral for a child to ask: ‘Did he steal?’ Chil­dren do that when we speak of jail.

My dad promised me that on my 18th birth­day, I would be on Robben Is­land to meet Un­cle Kathy. On my 18th birth­day, we were on the ferry. There was no phys­i­cal con­tact, only the tele­phone, and this huge piece of glass sep­a­rat­ing us. It was our first meet­ing. We both cried. It was so emo­tional. The one hour was too short, but, within that hour, we bonded as un­cle and niece.

He said: ‘Tell me about your life; tell me about your boyfriend,’ be­cause I used to write to him about my boyfriend.

I did most of the talk­ing. I asked him what they did there. He told me a few things, but did not tell us about hav­ing to crush stones or be­ing placed in soli­tary con­fine­ment.

Af­ter he was trans­ferred to Vic­tor Ver­ster Pri­son, I took my son, Yusuf, there. He was about three years old. Yusuf had been sit­ting on his lap; you know, he loved chil­dren. When the time was up, we got up and kissed Un­cle Kathy, and the lit­tle one said: ‘Come Nana, you are com­ing with us.’

He said: ‘I’m not al­lowed to come be­cause this un­cle here – re­fer­ring to a war­den – won’t let us come.’

The lit­tle one turned to the war­den, say­ing: ‘You are so naughty!’

Fe­bru­ary 11 was his last public event: the Vic­tor Ver­ster Walk, com­mem­o­rat­ing the day Tat’uMan­dela was re­leased from pri­son.

Un­cle Kathy got sick the next day in Cape Town and was ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal for tests. They dis­charged him, but a day later, he in­sisted he wanted to come back to Jo­han­nes­burg. His wife, Bar­bara Ho­gan, said he was up at 4.30am. I met them at the air­port. He got into the car and the first thing he said was: ‘I’m home.’

Doc­tors came to see him daily. He didn’t want to go to hospi­tal. On March 3, Bar­bara said: ‘Zohra, we need to get Nana to the hospi­tal.’

The day be­fore he was hos­pi­talised, he told one staff mem­ber: ‘I have one prob­lem with this lady.’ He pointed at me. ‘She eats a lot. So, when I see my brother...’

I said: ‘When you see your brother in heaven, what are you go­ing to tell him?’ He said: ‘I’m go­ing to tell my brother you ate me bank­rupt.’ I didn’t think that, when he talked about meet­ing his brother, it was a sign or a pre­mo­ni­tion.

That week be­fore he was hos­pi­talised, he was weak be­cause he could not eat. We used to put a bell next to his bed, and when he pressed, we’d run. He kept on press­ing the bell and we – me and Bar­bara – would run at the same time to get in the room.

I said: ‘Your high­ness, both your ser­vants are here; what can we do for you?’ He laughed. We bowed.

He was ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal and a CT scan showed a clot on the brain. The fam­ily and Bar­bara de­cided that they had to do surgery to re­move the clot.

On Mon­day, it was about 12pm and we were about to leave the hospi­tal. I was hold­ing his hand and kissed him on his fore­head. I said: ‘I love you. I will see you in the morn­ing.’

Those were my last words to him, but by then he was al­ready semi­con­scious. I do be­lieve he heard me be­cause I said: ‘Can you press my hand?’ He did.

The last thing he said at the hospi­tal was that he wanted to go home. Med­i­cally, we could not move him. That came out of­ten these last few days. ‘Take me home.’ It was of­ten said.

I just couldn’t at­tend the ceme­tery event. [Hu­man Set­tle­ments Min­is­ter] Lindiwe Sisulu said: ‘Please come to West­park Ceme­tery.’ But I couldn’t. I watched the beau­ti­ful send­off on SABC. It was tran­quil. It was dig­ni­fied. It was ex­actly the per­son he was.

The mem­o­ries will last for­ever. I’m a per­son who loves high heels. He used to worry about my back. ‘What’s go­ing to hap­pen to you when you get old? You need to start wear­ing flats.’

Wher­ever he went, he used to count heels. He had this thing about heels. ‘You know, Zohra, to­day I went to a func­tion and there were only four heels, and you were the fourth one. Ev­ery­body else was in flat shoes.’

He did have re­grets. He said one day that his one re­gret was not to have had chil­dren. He loved chil­dren. And in the last cou­ple of months, we took him to schools to in­ter­act with chil­dren, from lit­tle ones up to ma­tric. To be with them is what he en­joyed.

About his in­volve­ment in the strug­gle, he had no re­grets. Not long ago, he told some­one that he would do it all over again.”

PHOTO: TEBOGO LETSIE

PAY­ING TRIB­UTE Zohra Kathrada-Aer­ing­ton, Ahmed Kathrada’s niece, speaks about the fam­ily’s grief af­ter his death this week

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