Ahmed Kathrada, one of the legendary heroes of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, has joined the growing calls on actor Morgan Freeman to pull out of an award ceremony tonight in Toronto to raise funds for Canadian Friends of Hebrew University.
Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada spent 26 years as a political prisoner – 18 of them on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela – and has received the African National Congress’ highest possible accolade, the Isitwalandwe Award.
Kathrada, who recently returned from Palestine, writes to Freeman that “Israel is indeed an apartheid state. And in certain respects it is worse than apartheid.”
Kathrada also served as the political advisor to President Nelson Mandela and is currently the chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council.
The letter from Kathrada follows mounting calls on Freeman and the event’s emcee, Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, to pull out. Such calls have come from Palestinian students at Hebrew University and other Israeli citizens, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and from noted Canadian filmmaker and boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activist John Greyson.
Ghomeshi, meanwhile, issued a statement on his Facebook page today attempting to justify his participation in the fundraiser by claiming it is not “political.”
This is Kathrada’s letter in full as published by BDS South Africa a short time ago:
Dear Morgan - Friend of Democratic South Africa,
Allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Ahmed Kathrada.
I first met you in person when I had the privilege of guiding you on your visit to Robben Island some years ago. I was sentenced to life imprisonment together with Madiba [Nelson Mandela] and others in the Rivonia Trial, 1963/1964. After 18 years, together with Madiba and three others, I was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town where I spent the rest of my 26 years imprisonment.
On Robben Island I reminded you of the film of your prison escape Shawshank Redemption which made a huge impact on many of us.
I also met you in Los Angeles when Samuel Jackson bestowed on me an award on behalf of Artists for a New South Africa. At the same event, La Tanya presented an Award on my partner (and former prisoner) Ms. Barbara Hogan. In my mind, your presence once again confirmed you as a great friend of the new South Africa.
And this was followed later by Invictus.
What has prompted my letter to you has been the surprise that you are being given the “Key of Knowledge Award” by the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University Jerusalem!
What immediately came to mind were the words of Madiba: “… But we know too well that our freedom isn’t complete without the freedom of the Palestinians … .”
I would have hoped that before you accept the award, you would have paid a visit to Palestine. I had heard and read a lot about the plight of the Palestinian people. The Russell Tribunal of imminent persons from different parts of the world have condemned Israel as an “Apartheid State.”
Last Friday, I returned from Palestine after spending a week there. To me, it was confirmation of a people living under worse forms of colonial rule, under Israel as a Colonial power, ruling under permanent conditions of Martial Law.
I was born in a South Africa that regarded people who were not white as lesser human beings. I have seen sign boards outside elevators and buildings that read “Non Europeans and dogs not allowed,” thus reducing those of us who were not white to the level of animals.
I have now personally witnessed the plight of the Palestinian people. They are living under conditions of permanent Martial law. I came back convinced that Israel is indeed an apartheid state. And in certain respects it is worse than apartheid.
Under the worst of apartheid times there were no roads strictly reserved for whites! There were no checkpoints manned by armed soldiers to ensure that Palestinians don’t break the restrictions. There wasn’t a 750 kilometer-wall, encroaching on Palestinian land, to separate Israel from Palestinians. There were no settlements springing up with impunity on Palestinian land. I can go on and on about an experience that will forever remain in my mind.
Finally, I am unable to comprehend how quickly Israel has forgotten the Holocaust, during which millions of Jews and thousands of Communists, gypsies, homosexuals, Russians perished. In 1951 I visited Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and saw what atrocities one set of human beings could perpetrate on another.
Forgive me for this lengthy email. It’s because my experience of Palestine is still fresh in my mind.