The Ahmed M. Kathrada Collection at
Michigan State University's Special Collections

The Ahmed M. Kathrada Collection at Michigan State University consists of microform copies of his prison correspondence, personal notebooks and documents from his prison years, and the Pollsmoor Prison Library list. There is also a printed catalog available for the collection to assist the researcher. It is perhaps the most extensive personal collection of prison papers available for the apartheid years.

The largest part of the collection is Kathrada's prison correspondence, which dates from 1964 - 1989. In his 25 years in prison, Kathrada wrote some 950 letters and sent a large number of cards to family members and friends. He received some 850 letters and several hundred postcards. Most of these letters date from the 1970s and 1980s since in the early years at Robben Island the number of letters he was allowed to send or receive was extremely limited (only two a year in 1964 - 65 and four in 1966 - 67!). The collection contains more than 90% of his prison letters for the period of 1964 - 1974. A fairly large number of Kathrada's outgoing letters (i.e. the carbon copies he made) are missing as they were confiscated by the prison authorities at Robben Island and never returned to him.

Interference with prisoners' correspondence by the prison censors was a frequent and highly irritating feature of prison life, especially during the 1960s and 1970s at Robben Island. The prison letters of Kathrada show many examples of this censorship: incoming letters mutilated by scratching or even cutting out passages which were deemed "undesirable" or outgoing letters which had to be rewritten (sometimes more than once) for similar reasons. The letters that survived mostly deal with family and personal matters, general issues of a non-political nature, his studies, life in prison (although restricted), recollections from the years before 1964, etc. Kathrada and other political prisoners were not allowed to write to known political activists and censorship focused explicitly on political issues and information about the living conditions in jail, including the situation of his fellow prisoners. Yet the letters provide fascinating information on all these subjects; they especially give a rich and detailed picture of the person Ahmed Kathrada -- as a leading political prisoner of South Africa's main liberation movement, but above all as a thoughtful, caring, and compassionate human being, deeply committed to the universal struggle against racism and injustice.

The Ahmed M. Kathrada Collection is a gift from Mr. Kathrada. The original materials are held by the Mayibuye Centre for History and Culture at the University of Western Cape, which provided the microform copies, the printed catalog, and the preceding text.

The Ahmed Kathrada Collection
Special Collections Division
Michigan State University Libraries
East Lansing, MI 48824 - 1048