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21 ICONS: Ahmed Kathrada



The youngest Rivonia trialist, Ahmed Kathrada, shares his journey from struggle hero to Member of Parliament in this edition of Adrian Steirn’s 21 ICONS South Africa.


Kathrada spent 26 years of a life sentence in jail on Robben Island and Pollsmoor, with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other political prisoners. Yet after a lifetime behind bars this remarkable 84 year old has emerged with no trace of bitterness. One of his favourite pastimes during his 18 years on the Island was to secretly jot down quotations to express his freedom of spirit despite his physical incarceration. In 2009, Kathrada collaborated with author Tim Couzens on “A Simple Freedom”, a collection of quotes and writings by Kathrada when he was in jail.


This love of words inspired Steirn to shoot Kathrada’s 21 ICONS portrait against a white canvas backdrop inscribed with his 40 favourite quotations. Steirn said, “You’d never think that such a gentle man with so much humility and humour had spent his lifetime in jail. One of the things that struck me was that words and phrases were his companions.”


The proceeds of the sale of the original, signed portrait will go to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation which promotes the values enshrined in the Freedom Charter and Constitution of South Africa. The core of the Foundation’s work is to “deepen non-racialism and create an equitable society”.


In the accompanying short film Kathrada, renowned for his extraordinary memory, recalls the details of every day Island life with humour, modesty and humility, providing a unique insight into the camaraderie of the prisoners, their profound belief in their cause and the brutal ways the authorities tried to break them.


Over 21 weeks black and white portraits of 21 South African heroes will be shared as collectable posters in the Sunday Times newspaper, and the accompanying short films will air on SABC3 at 6.57pm, just before the 7pm news. Fans can follow the series online through the digital campaign launched by Quirk Joburg on Facebook, on Twitter or at, where you can find icon profiles and behind the scenes images uploaded weekly. Or you can catch up here every Monday.


21 ICONS South Africa is proudly sponsored by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, Nikon, Deloitte, The Sunday Times, SABC3 and the Department of Arts and Culture. Additional credits go to content-creation company Ginkgo Agency.









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