Conversations with a Gentle Soul

February 21, 2017

Standing at the entrance of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, I watch Ahmed Kathrada and George Bizos warmly greet each other and I was reminded that I am standing among GIANTS!  They are among the last few remaining stalwarts of the anti-Apartheid struggle.  It’s an under-stated intimate gathering to mark the launch of Conversations with a Gentle Soul, a new book by Kathrada and Sahm Venter.  Kathrada’s family, wife Barbara Hogan, Trevor Manuel and Sello Hatang, the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, are also present. Kathrada, Hogan, Venter and Hatang – some of my personal super heroes, all in one place!



Intolerance. Discrimination. Prejudice. Inequality. Corruption. Greed. War.  The world over and there seems to be a glaring lack of leadership.  Politicians and other public figures, seem driven by self-interest, enrichment and the accumulation of more power.  Instead of defending humanity, they seem hell bent on dividing society, exploiting fears and prejudice, religion, race, sexual preference – nothing is off limits or sacred.


But this wasn't always the case. There was a time when leaders put people first, a time when acts of selflessness were undertaken for the greater good.  All in the aid of taking the fight against discrimination, injustice, inequality and intolerance, a step further.  Ahmed Kathy Kathrada is one of those leaders! As a teenager, Kathrada joined the Young Communist League of South Africa.  The years that followed, saw him become a key figure in the fight for freedom.  In 1963, Kathrada together with Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni, were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, outside Johannesburg.  


Kathrada would spend 26 years of his life on Robben Island.  Like many others who were part of the anti-Apartheid movement, Kathrada SELFLESSLY traded his own freedom for the equality, justice and liberation of others.


                                                                                                                                                    “Comrade Kathy, with whom I spent time as a fellow prisoner on Robben Island, is one of the unheralded giants of our country’s glorious struggle for freedom and equality. His characteristic modesty does not detract from, but rather adds to the significance of the sacrifices and contributions he has made over many years of struggle.”  Dikgang Moseneke


A quick review of the news coverage pre, during and post SONA 2017 and you know Conversations with a Gentle Soul, couldn’t come at a more appropriate time – Kathrada’s thoughts, opinions and experiences on a range of issues, serves as inspiration and a reminder of what true leadership is.  


 “I suppose it’s useful for when young people today don’t have the example in front of them. Maybe they’ve never met the person, but through reading, through hearing stories from other people, they can then aspire to that.”


With a warm, beaming smile and a hug at the ready – it’s easy to understand why Kathrada is called a gentle soul.  Despite his many hardships and years in prison, there is no resentment or bitterness, just a renewed commitment to non-racialism, and a just and fair society.  It’s fitting then that the book is dedicated to Ruth First, Dulcie September and Fezeka Kuzwayo.


“Two gentle souls with a searing commitment to the ideals on which the New South Africa was founded.  Our freedom was built less by stunning acts of heroism than by people who did the next right thing. Kathy’s warmth shimmers through the pages of this beautiful book.”  Mpho Tutu van Furth


Without giving too much away, as the book is so worth buying and reading.

Its the deep friendship and respect between Kathrada and co-author Sahm Venter that brings the book to life.  



Venter is currently senior researcher at the Nelson Mandela Foundation and has a string of published works to her name.  A former journalist, with extensive experience covering the anti-Apartheid movement, in the preface to Conversations with a Gentle Soul, Venter gives a glimpse into what it was like for journalists back then: “It was an intoxicating time for journalists and activists alike. Dangerous. Traumatic. We reeled from one crisis to the next.” Venter has always been and continues to be an inspiration.


I hope like me, you will read Conversations with a Gentle Soul, and be inspired! In this age of flawed leaders, fake news and growing intolerance, this book shows us that we can in our own way, continue the work started by the likes of Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo - we must be active citizens who do what’s right. 


The book is available at all major retailers.





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