Robben Is­land stuns film star

‘Katie Holmes touched’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - MIKE BEHR

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.”

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