Ahmed Kathrada, South Africa's revered Indian-origin anti-apartheid activist who was one of Nelson Mandela's closest aides in his struggle to end the white minority rule, died in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
Kathrada, 87, died at the Donald Gordon Hospital after complications following a brain surgery, his foundation said.
Kathrada, who spent 26 years and 3 months in prison, including 18 years on the infamous Robben Island, was admitted to the hospital on March 4 initially for dehydration but doctors later picked up a clot on his brain‚ which was subsequently removed.
After the operation, he had "experienced several health-related setbacks", the Ahmad Kathrada Foundation said.
Kathrada will be buried according to Muslim religious rights tomorrow, the foundation said.
"This is great loss to the ANC (African National Congress), the broader liberation movement and South Africa as a whole. Internationally, he was staunch in his support for the Palestinian struggle," Neeshan Balton, Executive Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said.
"'Kathy' was an inspiration to millions in different parts of the world," said Balton.
South African President Jacob Zuma condoled the death of Kathrada, praising him for serving "selflessly throughout his adult life".
He declared a special official funeral for him.
The President instructed that the national flag fly at half-mast throughout the country from today until the evening of the official memorial service.
The family has requested a private funeral ceremony, the President said.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will lead the send-off of the much-loved stalwart within government, Zuma said.
Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Kathrada as "a man of remarkable gentleness, modesty and steadfastness," hailing him a moral leader of the anti-apartheid movement.
"These were people of the highest integrity and moral fibre who, through their humility and humanity, inspired our collective self-worth -- and the world's confidence in us," the Nobel laureate said in a statement.
Kathrada, who frequently referred to Mandela as his 'elder brother', was among three political prisoners who were sentenced to life imprisonment together with the South African anti-apartheid icon after the infamous Rivonia Trial of 1964.
The two others were Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg.
They played major roles in shaping the country's policies after Mandela's election as the first democratic President of South Africa in 1994.
"We are deeply saddened to learn this morning of the passing on of our dear friend and founding trustee, Ahmed Kathrada," said the Nelson Mandela foundation on Twitter.
Kathrada was born on August 21, 1929 in Schweizer-Reneke, a town in the North West Province of South Africa, and introduced to politics as a young boy when he joined a non-racial youth club run by the Young Communist League.
At the tender age of 17, Kathrada participated in the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign led by the South African Indian Congress.
He was among 2,000 people who were arrested and jailed for defying a law that discriminated against South African-Indians.
In July 1963, the police swooped on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb where Kathrada and other banned persons had been meeting secretly. This led to the famous Rivonia Trial in which eight accused were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour on Robben Island.
While in prison, he obtained four university degrees.
Kathrada also received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, India's highest honour for foreign nationals of Indian-origin, in 2005 from the Indian President.
The African National Congress had bestowed its highest honour, Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe on Kathrada in 1992 for his selfless dedication to the struggle for a free democratic non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
Despite having left the political arena, Kathrada has maintained a hectic schedule of local and international travel for the past few years in pursuit of the objectives of a non-racial society espoused by the Foundation that bears his name.
A prolific writer, Kathrada penned six books himself or with co-authors. He is survived by his wife Barbara Hogan, also an ANC stalwart and veteran.