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UMass President Awards Medal to South African Anti-Apartheid Leader

Today, University of Massachusetts President Jack M. Wilson presented the University's highest honor, the President's Medal, to South African anti-apartheid leader Ahmed Kathrada. The award was presented during a ceremony conducted at the Nelson Mandela Robben Island Gateway in Cape Town.

Mr. Kathrada, along with Nelson Mandela and other political activists, was arrested in 1963, convicted in 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment for his efforts to end the South African government's repressive apartheid policies. He served a total of 26 years in prison. For 18 of those years, he was incarcerated with Mr. Mandela on Robben Island. Mr. Kathrada was released from prison in 1989 and, in 1994, in the first all-inclusive democratic South African elections, was elected a Member of Parliament and acted as a key advisor to newly elected President Mandela.

The citation for the President's Medal stated, in part, "For your inspirational role as one of the leaders in the struggle to end apartheid government and to liberate the people of South Africa, you deserve the utmost in international respect."

President Wilson, said, "Ahmed Kathrada is a man of great spirit and tremendous dignity who should inspire all of us to stand up for justice at every opportunity. His life story is a beacon to people engaged in freedom struggles throughout the world, encouraging them to never give up."

President Wilson added: The poignant and moving visit that we have just made to Robben Island underscores in the strongest terms my belief that all of our students, and indeed students throughout the world, need to know in all of its dimensions the story of your struggle here in South Africa. It is a story that we must never lose sight of. And I know that you have devoted a great deal of your life to communicating the story of what was... and what could be. You have performed an important service for your nation and for the world."

Past recipients of the President's Medal include U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and former General Motors CEO Jack Smith.

The ceremony took place as President Wilson and other University officials were in South Africa to sign research agreements with three of South Africa's leading universities - the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Contact: Bill Wright, 617.287.7065

2/21/06