THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published — Friday 12 July 2013
Last update 12 July 2013 2:34 am
JOHANNESBURG: Ahmed Kathrada, a warhorse of the anti-apartheid struggle, was allowed just a few minutes at the hospital bedside of his critically ill comrade, Nelson Mandela. It was, he said, a traumatic experience to see the former president, physically robust during their prison years together, in such a fragile state.
Mandela could not speak but his face “changed” and he recognized his visitor “through his eyes,” Kathrada said of the July 1 encounter, which was overseen protectively by Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel.
This is the image of Mandela that South Africans, and many people around the world, find hard to accept. The man who withstood 27 years in jail and led his country from conflict toward reconciliation, is as vulnerable as anyone his age, and monitored around the clock by doctors.
The 94-year-old was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 for a lung infection. The government said Thursday he is in critical but stable condition, and responding to treatment. Legal filings by Mandela’s family have said he is on life support.
“All the years that we knew him, we knew him, somebody who was very conscious of his health, somebody who exercised in and outside of jail, regularly, and here you see a person who’s different. A shell of himself,” Kathrada, 83, said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.
“It was an overwhelming feeling of sadness, and of course the unrealistic wish and prayer that he can be with us for longer and longer,” said Kathrada, who joined Mandela in pivotal events of the early campaign against minority white rule. The two first met in 1946, before apartheid was even implemented.
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 raid on the Liliesleaf farm in Johannesburg that netted most leaders of the African National Congress, then a liberation movement and now South Africa’s ruling party. Kathrada was among those arrested there, while Mandela was already in prison at that time.