Cover image for Letters from Robben Island : a selection of Ahmed Kathrada's prison correspondence, 1964-1989
Letters from Robben Island : a selection of Ahmed Kathrada's prison correspondence, 1964-1989
Kathrada, A. M. (Ahmad M.)
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cape Town, South Africa : Mayibuye Books in association with the Robben Island Museum ; East Lansing : Michigan State University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxvi, 263 pages : illustrations, 1 map ; 23 cm
Dedication and acknowledgments / Ahmed Kathrada -- Foreword / Nelson Mandela -- Introduction / Walter Sisulu -- Editor's introduction / Robert Vassen -- About Ahmed Kathrada -- Sylvia Neame, February or March 1964 -- Sylvia Neame, February or March 1964 -- Sylvia Neame, May 1964 -- Sylvia Neame, 9 June 1964 -- Sylvia Neame, 11 June 1964 -- Ahmed Kola, 30 August 1964 -- Kathrada family, 18 October 1964 -- Kathrada family, 24 December 1967 -- Essop Pahad, 3 April 1968 -- Goolam Hoosenbhai, 29 December 1968 -- Sylvia Neame, between 11-31 December 1970 -- Solly Kathrada, March 26 1972 -- Zivia Shaban, 12 May 1973 -- Mrs. Neville Alexander, 16 February 1975 -- Sonia Bunting, 16 February 1975 -- Choti and Ismail, 28 March, 1975 -- Ruth and Ilse Fischer, 11 May 1975 -- Raman Chiba, 20 Septem
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT1949.K38 A4 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
DT1949.K38 A4 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Late one night in July, 1963, a South African police unit surrounded the African National Congress headquarters in Rivonia and arrested a group of Movement leaders gathered inside. Eventually eight of them, including Nelson Mandela, who was already serving a sentence, Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoledi, Andrew Mangeni, and Ahmed Kathrada, were convicted of sabotage and, on June 12, 1964, sentenced to life in prison. Soon, these men became widely known as the "Rivonia Trialists." Despite their imprisonment, the Trialists played active roles in the struggle against South Africa's racist regime. Instead of being forgotten, as apartheid officials had hoped, they became enduring symbols in a struggle against injustice and racism. 
     Kathrada and his colleagues were classified as high security prisoners, segregated from others and closely watched. Every activity was regulated and monitored. Among the many indignities visited upon them, the prisoners were prohibited from keeping copies of incoming and outgoing correspondence. Kathrada, or "Kathy" as he is known, successfully hid both. 
     Letters From Robben Island contains a selection of 86 of the more than 900 pieces of correspondence Ahmed Kathrada wrote during his 26 years on Robben Island and at Pollsmoor Prison. Some were smuggled out by friends; others were written in code to hide meaning and content from prison censors. These are among his most poignant, touching, and eloquent communications. They are testimonies to Kathrada, his colleagues, and to their commitment to obtaining human dignity and freedom for all South Africans.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Ahmed ("Kathy") Kathrada, an Indian South African leader, spent 26 years as a political prisoner, most of the time on Robben Island with Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders. A selection of his prison letters, many censored or banned, has been retrieved and published here, with useful introductory notes that provide background and context. The personal letters may be too detailed for many readers, except for what they reveal of the writer's strength, humor, and compassion. But the facts about the letters and about the prison community will fascinate anyone interested in the apartheid struggle. Printed in full is the historic letter Kathrada and four other imprisoned leaders wrote to President Botha in 1985, refusing his offer of freedom if they would renounce violence. Now Kathrada chairs the prison museum, and one visitor describes how ex-prisoner number 468/64 showed her a cell so small you "couldn't imagine how it could have held dreams so immense." --Hazel Rochman

Choice Review

Kathrada was one of the eight, including Nelson Mandela, found guilty of sabotage and sentenced in June 1964 to life imprisonment. This collection of his letters, written during 18 years spent on Robben Island and seven more in Pollsmoor Maximum Prison, has been selected by Vassen from the much larger collection now at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, with a duplicate set at Michigan State University. Many of these were smuggled illegally from the prisons; others were part of a permitted quota, heavily censored. The reader can sample the idiotic and trivial censorship methods of the then South African authorities--the editor clearly marks deleted passages--by comparison with the original drafts kept hidden by Kathradra. The letters are remarkable for what they show of the patience, tolerance, and liberal-mindedness of their writer. Overtly or reading between the lines, they reveal much about prison conditions, but even more of the remarkable spirit that prevailed among these political prisoners and of their conviction, throughout years of appalling tedium, that their cause was not only just but also would inevitably triumph. All levels. J. E. Flint emeritus, Dalhousie University