Anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada dies aged 87

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Former South African politician, who was sentenced to life imprisonment with Nelson Mandela, has died after a short illness

South African anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, a Robben Island prisoner and one of Nelson Mandelas closest colleagues in the struggle against white rule, has died aged 87.

Kathrada was among those tried and jailed alongside Mandela in the Rivonia trial in 1964, which drew worldwide attention and highlighted the brutal legal system under the apartheid regime.

He died in hospital in Johannesburg following a short illness after brain surgery.

Kathrada spent 26 years and three months in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. After the end of apartheid, he served from 1994-99 as parliamentary counsellor to President Mandela in the first African National Congress (ANC) government.

This is great loss to the ANC, the broader liberation movement and South Africa as a whole, Neeshan Balton, head of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said. Kathy was an inspiration to millions in different parts of the world.

Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada before an address to parliament in Cape Town, March 1999. Photograph: Reuters

His activism against the white-minority apartheid regime started at the age of 17, when he was one of 2,000 passive resisters arrested in 1946 for defying laws that discriminated against Indian South Africans.

The ANC was banned in 1960, and two years later Kathrada was placed under house arrest. Soon afterwards, he went underground to continue the struggle as a member of the ANCs armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

In July 1963, the police swooped on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb where Kathrada and other senior activists had been meeting in secret.

At the Rivonia trial, eight of the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour on Robben Island. His fellow prisoners included Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Denis Goldberg.

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