Robben Island stuns film star
‘Katie Holmes touched’
HARROWING stories of deprivation and punishment inspired movie star Katie Holmes during a two-and-a-half-hour Robben Island tour last Saturday, which she vowed she would never forget.
Holmes, 34, has been based in Cape Town for the last few weeks, where she is shooting the fantasy drama The Giver, which also co-stars Alexander Skarsgard and Taylor Swift. The movie is due to wrap up in Joburg next month.
The actress was guided around South Africa’s most notorious political prison by Nelson Mandela’s close friend and fellow Robben Islander, Ahmed Kathrada, 84.
“Katie seemed very touched by the whole experience,” said Kathrada in an exclusive interview with Weekend Argus.
But she was particularly moved when visiting Mandela’s actual cell, “where I told her that we all slept on the ground for 14 years, that there were no flush toilets only buck- ets, that the lights were kept on all night, and that we were only allowed one letter and one visit every six months”.
She was also deeply affected by his stories of the deprivations they experienced while in prison.
“Freedom of speech was one of the serious ones. But every prisoner would say that the main deprivation was the absence of children. I shared my own experience where I didn’t see or have contact with a child for 20 years.
“That made quite an impact on Katie. She didn’t cry. But she did react. You could see she was very emotional. She couldn’t believe it. I’m sure as a mother she identified with that.”
In 1964, aged 34, Kathrada was jailed for life with Mandela. They spent 18 years together in Robben Island’s isolation block, known as B Section.
In October 1982, Kathrada was transferred to Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison with Mandela. The decorated ANC veteran spent a total of 26 years and three months behind bars.
At then President Mandela’s request, Kathrada began guiding kings, queens, heads of state and celebrities in the early 1990s, and is now the go-to host for VIP visitors to the island. His list of guests includes Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Oprah Winfrey, Samuel Jackson, Will Smith, and his heroes Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat.
Kathrada’s deprivation must have hit home for devoted mother Holmes, who was forced to leave daughter Suri behind on the mainland on the day of her visit.
“She was supposed to bring her daughter with,” explained Kathrada. “But unfortunately the child fell ill so it was just her. It was something minor. Nothing serious.”
Suri bounced back the following afternoon to play with her mother in a packed Green Point Urban Park during her day off from shooting. They spent time together in the chil- dren’s playground, raced each other along the paths, and queued together unnoticed to buy ice-cream from a vendor outside the park.
Earlier Holmes tweeted: “My sincere gratitude to Ahmed Kathrada for showing me Robben Island today. It was an honour for me. Thank you.”
She left a moving, more detailed message in the island’s visitors’ book: “Dear Ahmed. My sincerest gratitude for your work, your struggle, your triumph, your dedication, and your inspiration. Thank you for shining your light on me today and most especially for giving all of us courage in our lives. May God bless you and your family. Love. Katie Holmes.”
Kathrada revealed that Holmes also made a sizeable donation to his charity foundation.
He did not reveal the figure, but it is believed to be in the region of R100 000.
She also committed to attending the Boston premiere of the Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom, which is a fundraiser for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.
“Katie couldn’t stop thanking me after the tour because it was an experience she said she will cherish,” says Kathrada, who confesses that he didn’t recognise the name when Holmes’s request landed on his desk.
“I didn’t know who Katie Holmes was. But I found her to be an extremely wonderful person. Very, very unassuming.
“She came to the island without a bodyguard or an assistant. And when visitors recognised her she was very gracious about it.”
But the attention became overwhelming on the Robben Island ferry.
“She didn’t have a bodyguard with her so I arranged for her to sit on the bridge with the skipper. ”
Kathrada is not the starstruck type.
“I confessed to Katie if I go to a movie once a year it’s too much. But now that I’ve met her, I will go more often.”