South African icon to receive honorary degree

By Drew Teague

An international legend will visit UK this week to talk about his struggles and the struggles of South Africans.

Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada and his wife, Barbara Hogan, will be receiving honorary degrees at UK, as well as giving a convocation on various topics.

Lauren Kientz, post-doctoral scholar in the office of the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, is heading the Arts & Sciences South African initiative.

“Ahmed Kathrada was one of a handful of people tried in during what’s known as the Rivonia Trial, and that was the same trial that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned,” Kientz said. “They were both imprisoned for over 20 years because of their belief that all people should have a say in the functioning of South Africa.”

According to a news release, Kathrada and Hogan will both be on UK’s campus for two public events on Wednesday, the first being at the opening of an exhibit about Kathrada’s life and the second being where the two will receive their Honorary Doctorates of Letters and speak to the crowd present.

The University Press of Kentucky is also publishing Kathrada’s new book, “No Bread for Mandela,” according to the news release.

Kientz feels that Kathrada would want students to take several things away from the exhibit, including details of his life from in prison and a replica of the cell that Kathrada lived in for 26 years.

“I think one of the things that really matters to (Kathrada) a lot is something called non-racialism,” Kientz said, “which is a confusing word for Americans, because it sounds like not acknowledging race, but what it actually means is non-racism.

“It’s important to (Kathrada) to recognize that as South Africa goes forward, (it is) made up of all these different people.”

The exhibit also showcases what Kathrada endured during his many years in prison, both what he missed from the outside, like family meals, and also what made him live on, like working toward degrees, of which he obtained four during his time in prison.

“I think also part of this exhibit is about how he survived, how he and Mandela survived, for so many years as political prisoners,” Kientz said. “It’s both about what he was deprived from, like food and children, but also what kept him going.”

Kientz said government is another focus for Kathrada and the exhibit and that South Africa’s former government was not representative of the majority of the country.

“In the fight for democracy, it was central (to Kathrada),” Kientz said. “They wanted a majority-led democracy. South Africa was weird because it was a democracy, but a democracy of the 10 percent of white people.”

The opening of the exhibit will be in Lafferty Hall in the Main Exhibit Room Wednesday at 10 a.m., and the presentation of Kathrada’s and Hogan’s honorary degrees will be in the Recital Hall of the Singletary Center. Both events are open to the public.

The exhibit, “Ahmed ‘Kathy’ Kathrada: A South African Activist for Non-Racialism and Democracy,” will be open daily from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. until May 14.