South African President Jacob Zuma did not attend the burial of anti-Apartheid veteran Ahmed Kathrada Thursday in Johannesburg after the deceased’s family requested him not to.
Until his death on Tuesday, Kathrada was a staunch member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which is led by Mr. Zuma.
“President Zuma will not attend the funeral and memorial service in compliance with the wishes of the family,” a statement issued by the Office of the President read in part.
“Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will lead the government delegation to the funeral and memorial service.”
Mr. Kathrada, who spent more than 26 years in prison alongside the former South African President Nelson Mandela, had often expressed his displeasure with President Zuma’s style of leadership. His wife, Barbara Hogan, is also a fierce critic of Zuma.
Last year, Mr. Kathrada issued a statement calling on Zuma to resign after he admitted to illegally using public funds to renovate his private home in Nkandla.
Kathrada’s call was repeated at the funeral by the former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe who received a standing ovation.
Since his early life, Kathrada was a strong supporter of racial equality, and he committed his life to making this idea a reality.
At 17 years old, Kathrada left school to work for the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council, which opposed the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act, also referred to as the “Ghetto Act.”
The act sought to give Indians in South Africa limited political representation and restricted areas where they could live, trade, and own land.
Kathrada was among the 2,000 volunteers jailed for campaigning against the act. After spending a whole month in jail, Kathrada was elected as the chairman of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress.
As a senior member of the Asian community in South Africa, Kathrada came in to close contact with the then-leaders of the ANC, such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.
In 1963, Kathrada was arrested at the headquarters of the popular Umkhonto we Sizwe, a military wing of the ANC, and charged with sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government and to start a guerrilla war.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment along with Mandela, Sisulu, and other ANC leaders in 1964 and would remain in prison until October 1989.
The veteran political activist has won numerous accolades, including the Isitwalandwe Award and Pravasi Bharatiya Samman among others.
Kathrada died on Tuesday March 28, 2017 at a medical center in Johannesburg, where he was recovering from a brain surgery. He was 87 years old.