Ahmed Kathrada. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Ahmed Kathrada. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THERE are "101 reasons" why Nelson Mandela must live, says struggle hero Ahmed Kathrada who was imprisoned alongside the former president on Robben Island for 26 years.

The African National Congress stalwart on Friday attended the Alexander Forbes Leading Conversations breakfast series in Sandton, where Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was a guest.

Mr Kathrada was given an the opportunity to speak about Mr Mandela, who is critically ill in a Pretoria hospital, before the event’s programme began.

He joked with the audience that as prisoners they missed two things most, children and freedom of speech, adding that given the time to talk, he would do so for 26 years — a reference to the time he spent on Robben Island.

Mr Kathrada heaped praise on Mr Mandela, saying: "There is so much one can say about Madiba. I don’t know were to start. Vintage Madiba easily relates to everybody. At this time one can think of 101 things why he must live."

He described Mr Mandela as a selfless leader who put the interests of his people before his own.

"One thing Madiba said to us when we got to Robben Island was that we were no longer leaders but we were prisoners," he said. "When you look back at the 27 years he spent there, he really behaved like a prisoner refusing special treatment or exemption."

Mr Kathrada’s comments came as the world held its breath while a swirl of rumours and conflicting reports circulated about the health of Mr Mandela.

Messages of support continued to pour in from around the world. US President Barack Obama, on a three-nation Africa tour, tweeted his best wishes from Senegal, saying Mr Mandela was his "personal hero" and adding: "Even if he passes on, his legacy will linger on."

The ministers of health and defence arrived at the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria shortly before noon on Friday while further news of Mr Mandela's condition was awaited.