Start main page content

Ahmed Kathrada receives honorary doctorate


Kathrada was awarded a Doctor of Literature (DLitt) degree during the annual December Graduation Ceremony.

In his address to the graduates, he paid tribute to the late Constitutional Court Judge Arthur Chaskalson and urged those in power to always uphold the Constitution. 

“Since its establishment, the Court has jealously guarded the Constitution without fear or favour. Some of its judgements have been criticised by individuals in Government and the ruling party. A disturbing feature has been hints that can be interpreted as desire to curb the powers of courts, including the Constitutional Court.” 

“Interestingly these reactions have contributed towards the birth of new terminology. We increasingly hear and read of "untransformed", "neo liberals", "coconuts", and the newest is "clever blacks". On their own they can be dismissed, ridiculed or ignored. However, it is the constant repetition of such terms that is disturbing. Arthur Chaskalson and other leading lawyers have made their views known about the perceived threats to the independence of the Judiciary, especially on the Constitutional Court,” Kathrada said.

Read his full graduation address.

Read the citation presented by the Wits Registrar, Kirti Menon.

Born in 1929 and affectionately known as Kathy, Kathrada became involved in the struggle for liberation as a young 12 year old boy when he joined the Young Communist League in 1941. He was jailed alongside former president Nelson Mandela and others following the Rivonia trial and spent 26 years and three months in prison on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor Prison.

A former Witsie, who enrolled in 1950 at the University of the Witwatersrand for a Bachelor of Art degree, Kathrada obtained numerous degrees whilst in prison. He was released from prison on 15 October 1989 at the age of 60. 

Kathrada has written several books: Letters from Robben Island (1999), Memoirs (2004), Book of Quotations (2005), and A simple freedom (2008).