Johannesburg: A veteran South African anti- apartheid activist of Indian-origin has been conferred the 'Freedom of the City' title -- the highest honour offered by this city -- to commemorate the first democratic elections held in the country on this day day in 1994.

Ahmed Karthada, who was imprisoned for years, for his activities and involvement with the African National Congress, is only the fifth person after Nelson Mandela and other ANC stalwarts to be honoured with the honour.

Besides Mandela, deceased ANC stalwarts Walter Sisulu, Beyers Naude and Joe Slovo have been conferred with the honour.

"This honour is recognition of the fact that without the sheer commitment, determination, efforts and sacrifice of people such as Mr Kathrada, South Africa would not be enjoying the freedom it now celebrates," said a statement from the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, established to promote non-racialism in South Africa.

"Johannesburg would have been a different city - a city struggling to gain legitimacy among the vast majority of its residents as well as internationally," it said, in a message on Freedom Day.   

Kathrada, now 82, has received numerous honours and accolades abroad, including the Samman Award from the President of India during the first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
"As a model Johannesburg citizen who is admired, respected and whose exemplary leadership has inspired many fellow Johannesburg citizens and others beyond the Johannesburg city limits to follow in his footsteps, Mr Kathrada continues to work for a just and equitable South African society.

"He continues to work tirelessly in local communities - even at the ripe age of 82 years - to help realise a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic city and South Africa," it said.

Kathrada had arrived in Johannesburg from the rural town of Schweizer-Reneke in 1937, and was an active in fighting discrimination since.

After his conviction together with Mandela and others in the famous Treason Trial in apartheid-era South Africa, Kathrada spent nearly three decades on Robben Island, becoming a close confidante of Mandela then and after their release.