Ahmed Kathrada, the veteran of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle who spent 26 years imprisoned - many of them with his close friend Nelson Mandela - died in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning at the age of 87.
The following is an interview he gave to Al Jazeera in 2013, in which he talks about the early years of the anti-apartheid movement, the decades he spent in prison, the country's transition to democracy and his 50-year friendship with Mandela.
Al Jazeera: When did you first meet Nelson Mandela?
Ahmed Kathrada: [I first met Mandela] about 50 years ago …. We were in awe of this man who had gone to university, because there were not many people who were non-white who were at university.
Thereafter, of course, we met politically and there was a long history, but the main things were the three major court cases and we were [the] accused. During the court case that sent us to jail in the first place, we only saw lawyers for the first time three months after detention. And when we saw them for the first time, they told us to prepare for the worst.
What stands out in my mind is Mr Mandela. His whole aim was to treat that as a political trial and not as a criminal trial. So when you get into the witness box - those of us who went into the witness box – [he said]: "You don't plead for mercy, you don't apologise for what you have done. Where there is genuine evidence you don't dispute it, where there is no evidence you don't volunteer it either. You proclaim your political beliefs proudly, and if there is a death sentence, you don't appeal." And that is how the whole trial was conducted.
There was a very well-known speech that Mandela made in court in which he ended by saying: "All my life I have devoted to the achievement of equality and democracy. It is what I hoped to achieve and if need be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
So that was the whole tone of the trial and until the very last day, the expectation was that [it would be a death sentence]. And of course there was a collective sigh of relief when it was not a death sentence, but a life sentence.
What do you remember most about your decades in prison together?
He spent 27 years in prison and I spent 26. But we were together for many, many of those years [and most of all, I remember] his leadership qualities.
What I remember, when we landed on Robben Island, his words were: "We are no longer leaders, we are now just prisoners because we don't make policy, we don't give instructions. Our leaders are outside of prison, they make policy, they give instructions, and we are ordinary prisoners."
And that is how he engaged.
Take us through 'a day in the life' on Robben Island
[We would] get up in the morning at half past five, first go for a shower and then go forth to work. For eight hours a day we used to work.
Although the treatment was different [between the races], as political prisoners we were a united force. We didn't make those laws, those laws were imposed upon us. So we had to continue to fight for equality in everything. It took a long time, but we succeeded.
We went to work and there was no discrimination there. We worked with picks and shovel which was very hard work. Our hands, at the beginning, had blisters and blood. But after a while we got used to it. But we wanted to be out, to be outside of our cells. Once we were locked up in our single cells, we couldn't talk to each other, but there we could work in groups and we could talk.
For 15 years we didn't have newspapers, so we had to find ways of keeping ourselves informed, [by] smuggling [things in] - we did succeed, but we got in trouble from time to time. We had to keep ourselves informed, but we had to accept the situation that we are prisoners and we are going to spend many years in prison. We had to accept the fact that we were not going to escape, it is impossible.
You had to make [it] your home and you had to work to maintain your home, to keep it clean. There were the basic things you could do to make it a home, where you could decorate it with photographs and so on, so after some years you would do that.
In our first years we were only writing two letters a year, but then it grew in time. When I finished my 25th year in prison, I was writing 40 letters a year. It took a long time before we achieved this. But our spirits never went down. Our spirits remained and we knew that we were going to win, one day.
We never imagined that Mandela would be president of the country or that I would be sitting in parliament, we never imagined that. But we knew the ANC would win one day - and it has happened in our lifetime.
What was Mandela like during the prison years?
Years after we were [on Robben Island], he was offered to be released - alone. He refused, saying first of all he does not want preferential treatment. Secondly, they wanted to send him to some little part of South Africa, and he said: "I'm not prepared to go there, the whole of South Africa belongs to us - black and white."
[On Robben Island] when we were working hard labour with picks and shovels, he could have been exempted, [but] he refused to be exempted. When we were on hunger strikes, those of us who were younger thought that our elders and those who were not well should be exempted. He refused to be exempted. He said: "We are prisoners like all the others, and no preference should be given."
There was also discrimination [by prison authorities] between Indians like me, and blacks like Mandela. Different laws applied to different people, different communities. For instance, Mandela - being black - did not get bread for 10 years. And me - being Indian - got a quarter loaf of bread every day; things like that. There and then he could have easily got preferential treatment. Even the clothing was different. Mr Mandela [and other black inmates] were wearing short trousers, while we were wearing long trousers, according to the law at that time. And he could have easily got treated like us, but he refused.
He refused all preferential treatment. He said whatever happens we must fight for equality. So in three years we did manage to get equal clothing. But food took much longer. In all those years, he behaved like an ordinary prisoner.
[Mandela] was a complex character - both the aristocrat, and royalty, and the peasant; the intellectual and the ordinary person; he was a combination of so many different characteristics ... you cannot just put him into one box and say 'this is him'.