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From 8115 Orlando West to Robben Island

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada give Top Billing a tour of Robben Island

From 8115 Orlando West to Robben Island

This week we come to you from a modest house that was he first home of a great man. Nelson Mandela moved in to the small house, on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, Soweto in 1945. However, as Madiba was able to live in his home for too long as he was forced underground in 1961 and imprisoned in 1962. Madiba did return to his first home in 1990, after his release from Robben Island, for a brief stay before moving to his present home in Houghton.

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (or 'Kathy', as he is popularly known), spent 26 years and 3 months in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. Join us as Kathrada takes us on a guided tour of Robben Island and share his thoughts, feelings and memories of the prison he and Nelson Mandela spent so many years of their lives in.

About Mandela House at 8115 Orlando West:

‘That night I returned with Winnie to No. 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.’

Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom, on his return to 8115 Orlando West after his release from prison in 1990.

The Mandela House at 8115 Orlando West, on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, Soweto, was built in 1945, part of a Johannesburg City tender for new houses in Orlando. Nelson Mandela moved here in 1946 with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, They divorced in 1957, and from 1958 he was joined in the house by his second wife, Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela (Winnie).

He was to spend little time here in the ensuing years, as his role in struggle activities became all-consuming and he was forced underground (1961), living a life on the run until his arrest and imprisonment in 1962.

Nelson Mandela returned here for a brief 11 days after his release from Robben Island in 1990, before finally moving to his present house in Houghton. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, herself imprisoned several times, lived in the house with her daughters while Nelson Mandela was in jail, until her own exile to Brandfort in 1977, where she remained under house arrest until 1986. The family continued to occupy the house until 1996, when the Mandelas divorced. The house was subsequently turned into a public heritage site, with Nelson Mandela as the Founder Trustee.

‘The house itself was identical to hundreds of others built on postage-stamp-size plots on dirt roads. It had the same standard tin roof, the same cement floor, a narrow kitchen, and a bucket toilet at the back. Although there were street lamps outside we used paraffin lamps as the homes were not yet electrified. The bedroom was so small that a double bed took up almost the entire floor space.’

‘It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.’

Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom

Courtesy of

Mandela House
8115 Orlando West
Tel:  011 936 7754

Fax:  011 936 4244

Address:  8115 Orlando West
South Africa


About Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada:

Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (or 'Kathy', as he is popularly known) was born on 21 August 1929 in Schweizer-Reneke, a small rural South African town, about 200 miles from Johannesburg. He was introduced to politics as a child in Johannesburg when he joined a non-racial youth club run by the Young Communist League.

At the age of 17 Kathrada participated in the Passive Resistance Campaign of the South African Indian Congress. He was part of 2 000 people who were arrested and imprisoned for defying a law that discriminated against Indians.
In the 1940s Kathrada first met Congress leaders, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, I C Meer and J N Singh.

In 1951, Kathrada was selected to visit East Berlin to attend a youth festival jointly organized by the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), and the International Union of Students (IUS). From there he visited Poland where the Auschwitz Concentration camp left an indelible impression on him. Back home in 1952, Kathrada was in a group of 20, including Mandela and Sisulu who were sentenced to nine months in prison with hard labour, suspended for two years for organizing a Defiance Campaign against six apartheid laws. The campaign was jointly organized by the ANC and SA Indian Congress.

In 1954, Kathrada was placed under restrictions by the Security Police and was arrested several times for breaking his “banning orders”. In 1956, he was among the 156 Congress activists and leaders charged for High Treason. The trial continued for four years after which all the accused were acquitted. Kathrada, Mandela and Sisulu were among the last 30 to be acquitted. While they were on trial, in 1960, the ANC and PAC were banned. In 1962, Kathrada was placed under “house arrest”. The following year Kathrada broke his banning orders, and went “underground”, to continue his political work. In July 1963, the police swooped on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb where Kathrada and other “banned” persons had been meeting. This led to the famous 'Rivonia Trial', in which eight accused were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour.

They included Mandela, Sisulu, Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni.

Kathrada spent 26 years and 3 months in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island. In 1982 Mandela, Sisulu, Kathrada, Mhlaba and Mlangeni were transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.
While in prison he obtained four university degrees:
  • BA (in History and Criminology)
  • B Bibliography (in African Politics and Library Science)
  • BA Honours (History)
  • BA Honours (African Politics)
Soon after his release on 15 October 1989, the ANC was unbanned. At its first legal conference in South Africa, Kathrada was elected onto its National Executive Committee. Until 1994 he headed its Public Relations Department. At its Conference in 1997 Kathrada declined nomination to the National Executive Committee. In 1992, Kathrada undertook the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

In 1994 Kathrada was elected to Parliament and served as President Mandela's Parliamentary Counsellor. He was chairperson of the Robben Island Musuem Council until his term expired in 2006.
Ahmed Kathrada received the following awards:
  • “Isithwalandwe”; the highest award bestowed by the ANC
  • The ANC's Merit Award, for long service
  • Presidential Order for Meritorious Service; Class 1: Gold
  • Honorary Doctorate: University of Massachusetts, May 2000
  • Honorary Doctorate by the University of Durban-Westville, 2002
  • Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Missouri, January 200
  • Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, by President of India, January 2005
  • Doctor of Humanities, Michigan State University, December 2005

Books Published:
  • In 1999 - Letters from Robben Island
  • In 2004 - Memoirs
  • In 2005 - A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada's Notebook from Robben Island

Information courtesy of

Ahamed Kathrada Foundation:
Genral enquiries:
Postal Address
: PO Box 10621, Lenasia, 1820
Tel : 011 854 2745

Fax : 011 854 2847
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