Wednesday, April 11, 2018


(These photos of Winnie Mandela was taken in June 1983 when this journalist and four political activists - Mewa Ramgobin, George Sewpersadh, Paul Devadas David and M J Naidoo - travelled from Durban to Brandfort to meet with Winnie Mandela after our banning orders were lifted in early 1983)
INTRO: Thousands of people – mainly dressed in the colours of the ruling African National Congress – packed the Orlando sports stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg, to attend the official Government Memorial Service for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Mandela passed away in a Johannesburg hospital on Monday, April 2, at the age of 81. Subry Govender filed this feature on the memorial service....

Friday, April 6, 2018


INTRO: South Africa’s immediate former president – Jacob Zuma – who resigned from office in mid-February this year – appeared in court today on charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering. He was only in court for less than half an hour after the trial was provisionally adjourned to the sixth of June after the prosecution told the court that the defence had indicated that it was filing an application for a review of the decision to charge him. Zuma is facing 16 corruption and fraud charges related to 783 bribery payments made to him by a former financial advisor – Schabir Sheik – on behalf of the French arms company - Thales. Subry Govender reports that there was more action outside court with Zuma supporters showing their solidarity in their thousands……

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


(NELSON WITH HIS FAMILY MEMBERS AT HIS HOME IN BELVEDERE, TONGAAT, IN DECEMBER 2017) A former resident of the little village of Ottawa on the north coast of the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa has passed away at the young age of 63. Mr Gangadharan “Nelson” Govender, who grew up surrounded by sugar cane fields and the fast flowing Ottawa river in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, passed away on Saturday, March 17 at his current home in the village of Belvedere in the town of Tongaat, about 20km north of Ottawa. He was a third generation descendant of indentured labourers who had come to come to the former Natal Colony in January 1882 to work as “slaves” on the sugar cane fields owned by British settlers. His ancestors had come from the village of Navalpore in the Tamil Nadu state of India. At his funeral on Sunday, March 18, this was the tribute that was paid to him by his eldest brother, Subry Govender: A VERY SPECIAL PERSON DURING HIS LIFE TIME
(NELSON WITH HIS WIFE, MALA, NIECE, ASTER, SISTER, VIOLET, AND ASTER'S GRANDSON) “It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them.” Vanakkam, Namaskaram, Namasthe and Sanibonani. Good morning/Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. For us all – neighbours, friends and family – Nelson was that kind of special person. Firstly, I want to thank all neighbours, friends and relatives who have gathered here to pay our last respects to Gangadharan Nelson Govender, who passed away yesterday morning (March 17) at the age of 63.
(NELSON WITH HIS FAMILY MEMBERS IN DECEMBER 2017) On Wednesday evening last week, I telephoned to check with Mala how Nelson was doing. But as my misfortune would have it, I did not get the chance to speak to Mala or Nelson. I then immediately wrote an SMS and sent it to Mala. The next morning on Thursday, Mala wrote me a message, saying Nelson was doing okay. The next day on Friday, I told my wife, Thyna, that we should phone Mala again and just check about Nelson. Then yesterday morning, Thyna told me you know we should go and visit Mala and Nelson. But while we were on our way home at about 11:30am from a local shopping centre we received the sad message from one of the neighbours that Nelson had passed on. We were a bit surprised because from all accounts we thought that Nelson was pulling through.
(NELSON WITH NEIL PILLAY, ONE OF THE FIFTH GENERATION DESCENDANTS OF THE EXTENDED MUNIAMMA FAMILY) As I said in my introduction, Nelson was a special person to all of us. His thought-provoking words, interspersed with laughter and jokes, during interactions with friends, neighbours and family members were special moments during his life. Who was Nelson?
(NELSON WITH HIS FATHER, FREDDY MUNIEN, MOTHER, SALATCHIE, AND UNCLE LICKY GOVENDER AND AUNTIE PATCH GOVENDER, ON HIS 21ST BIRTHDAY IN OTTAWA) He was born as Gangadharan to Munien and Salatchie Subramoney Govender in Isipingo, to the south of the city of Durban, on 11th of December 1954. He was number six in the family. While still a small boy, our parents moved from Isipingo to settle in Munn Road, Ottawa. Here young Nelson attended the local school and was a real prankster. Climbing up the slinger berry tree and running to the road when he disagreed with his brothers and sisters, became a norm. At the same time, he created very close friends with other youngsters in the village, with whom he used to go fishing in the nearby Ottawa river, looking for guavas in the untamed bushes, fetching coal from the railway line and looking for mushroom at a number of spots on the old road in Ottawa. He also was a regular at the nearby sugar estates of Ottawa and Blackburn, where his ancestors worked as indentured labouers. He also used to join his family members to travel to the nearby sugar town of Mount Edgecombe to watch Tamil movies at the local temple hall. He also specialised in singing and became well-known at local like weddings and prayer functions in the village of Ottawa.
(NELSON WITH HIS BROTHERS - SADHA, NANDA AND SYDNEY) While still in his teens Nelson started work in Durban for the South African Railways.
(NELSON WITH HIS WIFE, MALA, AND HIS BROTHERS - SADHA, NANDA AND SYDNEY AND SISTER-IN-LAWS, THYNA, AND VASANTHA) In the early 1970s, Nelson joined his family when they moved to re-settle in Lotusville in the next town of Verulam. Here Nelson concentrated on his work but also at the same time continued with his pranks with his sister-in-laws – teasing, joking and laughing with them. While living in Lotusville, Nelson became very close to his nephews and nieces. Nelson never forget his roots in Ottawa and every Saturday evening he used to join his friends in a game of cards. Before long Nelson was introduced to Mala of Tongaat and they settled here in Belvedere after tying the knot some 35 years ago. Their marriage produced three children – Charmaine, Selina and Shiven.
(NELSON WITH SOME FAMILY FRIENDS AT HIS HOME IN BELVEDERE, TONGAAT, IN 2017) Nelson will be missed not only by Mala and his three adult children but also by five grand-children – Mykyala, Deolin, Keeval, Junaid and Samuel. Nelson will also be missed very dearly by his surviving siblings – Ambiga, Sadha, Nanda, Sydney, Kistamma Violet and Natchthramma Childie, sister-in-laws – Thyna, Devi and Vasantha, one brother-in-law – Sunny Kumarasamy Chetty – and 15 nephews and nieces. One of his nieces – Vanisha Cookie Govender – who is now settled in Perth, Australia with her family was taken aback when she was informed of Nelson’s passing yesterday. In a message to the family, she wrote: “I will always remember Nelson Mamha for the fun-loving person he was. Always smiling, no matter what adversity he was going through. May his soul rest in peace. Om Nama Shivaya.” One of the nephews, Michael “Henry” Kumarasamy, who is settled in New Zealand also sent a message of condolences to the entire family. Another nephew, Vivian “Mamba” Subramoney, who is now settled at Sun City, north of Pretoria, sent this message: “Very saddened by the passing of Uncle Nelson. Massive loss to the Subramoney family. Prayers and thoughts are with all the family members during this trying time. Please pass our condolences to Auntie Mala and the rest of the family. Jai Sai Raam.” Similar messages were sent by extended members of the Muniamma family, Mrs Paddy White, who is now settled in England; and Mrs Aveshnie Moodley, who is now settled in Germany with her family. One of Nelson’s very close extended family members, Ms Aster Reddy, who was unable to attend the funeral because she was recuperating in hospital, also sent a message to the family.
(SISTER KISTAMMA VIOLET WITH NELSON AND ASTER) NELSON'S SISTER, KISTAMMA VIOLET AND HER HUSBAND, SUNNY KUMARASAMY CHETTY, ALSO RENDERED TAMIL CHRISTIAN SONGS AS THEIR WAY OF REMEMBERING THEIR BROTHER. Nelson’s sad passing has come at a time when the Subramoney family along with other members of the extended Muniamma family is busy finalising arrangements for the launch of the Family’s History Book on Saturday, April 28. Nelson was looking forward to the launch and recently when we visited him he had requested that we must set aside at least seven places for his family to attend. He will be missed at the launch of our Family History Book. In closing my tribute to our dear brother, who was also a husband, father and grand-father, I want to say that Nelson will always be part of us. The following phrase by American author, Helen Keller, aptly applies to Nelson: “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.” Finally, on behalf of the Subramoney family, I want to express our sincere and deepest gratitude to Mala for being there with Nelson at all times. I also want to thank neighbours who were like one big family to Nelson. Ends –

Thursday, February 15, 2018


The leader of South Africa’s ruling ANC and Deputy President of the country – Cyril Ramaphosa – was today elected the fifth President of the country following the resignation of Jacob Zuma. Ramaphosa, 65, was elected in parliament by members of his ruling ANC and many opposition MPs. The DA and EFF opposition groups did not vote for Ramaphosa. The EFF members walked out of the house. Subry Govender filed this report for Africalink of Radio Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) ….. .

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Zuma Feb 14 2018 INTRO: South Africa’s beleaguered president, Jacob Zuma, has defied his ruling ANC and rejected the call on him to resign. He made this statement on Tuesday, February 14 2018, while saying that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC had not given him any reason to recall him. He will face a vote of no confidence in parliament on Thursday (Feb 15 2018) – to be brought by his own ANC. Subry Govender filed this report for the Africalink programme of Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany)….. .

Sunday, February 4, 2018


(A YOUNG DEVOTEE CARRYING THE KAVADY AND WALKING TOWARDS THE TEMPLE) The rich cultures and traditions brought by our forefathers and mothers to South Africa since the 1860s continues brightly and with all the spirit and vigour today. This has been demonstrated over the past week when thousands of people participated in the second day of the Kavady religious ceremony all over the country today (Feb 4).
(DEVOTEES CARRYING THEIR KAVADIES AND WALKING INTO THE TEMPLE GROUNDS) The first day of the religious ceremony took place on Wednesday (January 31). Our ancestors brought along the vibrant tradition of the Kavady when they were recruited to work as indentured labourers (or slaves) on the sugar plantations of the then Natal Colony. The Natal Colony was at that time in 1860 a colony of the British Empire. Our ancestors passed on the rich tradition of Kavady to their children and grand-children where ever they worked on the sugar plantations on the north and south coast of the Natal Colony and in and around the city of Durban. Today the Kavady ceremony is continued by the fourth, fifth and sixth generation descendants in all the towns and cities where they are settled.
I visited and observed the rich spiritual day at the 118-year-old Umdloti Drift temple and the nearby Tower Road Temple in Verulam, north of the city of Durban in South Africa.
(TOWER ROAD TEMPLE DEVOTEES WALKING TOWARDS THE TEMPLE) Similar ceremonies were observed at temples all over the KwaZulu-Natal province in areas such as KwaDukuza, Tongaat, Mount Edgecombe, Phoenix, Durban, Chatsworth, Merebank, Isipingo, and Umkomaas, Umzinto, Park Rynie and Port Shepstone on the south coast of province. Kavady ceremonies were also observed in temples in the Johannesburg-Pretoria region, Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town. Devotees of all ages - men, women, boys and girls - showed their commitment by not only carrying the holy bamboo structures but by also participating in the singing of devotional songs. Many of the devotees also showed their faith by pulling chariots of all sizes and shapes. There were also members of Bhajan groups who provided support for devotees by singing religious songs and pelting musical drums.
One of the officials at the Umdloti Drift Temple, Mr Reggy Naidoo, told me that he had been associated with the Kavady ceremony from a young age since the early 1940s. His father at that time was a senior official of the temple. “We are continuing with this ceremony because it is an important part of our culture and traditions,” he said. “On Wednesday we had more than 700 devotees carrying the Kavady and today more than 400 participated in the ceremony. I think from next year, we will try to hold the Kavady on one day. This will be on the official Thai Poosam day.
(ONE OF THE DEVOTEES AT THE UMDLOTI DRIFT TEMPLE) “This is a rich tradition that will continue for ever and ever”, he said. What is amazing about this religious ceremony is that scores of officials and volunteers are involved fully in ensuring that the devotees offer their prayers without any problems. Officials and volunteers were seen helping the devotees in preparing their Kavadies and leading the prayer processions. Another official involved in the ceremony, Mr Danny Chetty, said they were privileged to be involved. “This is a rich legacy and we have to ensure that future generations continue with what had been bequeathed by our ancestors,” he said. “It is absolutely fantastic to see so many young boys and girls and teenagers participating the Kavady ceremony. We have to encourage all our young people to become involved.”
At the Tower Road temple in Lotusville, Verulam, devotees appeared to be just as vigorous and vibrant. In addition to the normal-size bamboo Kavady strcutures, they also pulled huge chariots. At one stage of the ceremony, a number of the devotees were seen running while pulling the chariots.
The annual Kavady ceremony demonstrates that the rich and vibrant cultures of the people of Indian-origin in South Africa continues to flourish despite all the problems of oppression and suppression they suffered not only at the hands of colonisers but also by people who tried to impose their own thinking on our people. Some of these people unashamedly continue to try to hoodwink the poor and the uninformed. They must immediately desist from pursuing their nefarious, immoral and anti-spiritual activies. Ends –

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

George Gangen Ponnen – a son of indentured sugar cane labourers who joined the struggles for a non-racial South Africa despite acute repression and racism at the hands of the minority white oppressors.

(GEORGE GANGEN PONNEN) By Subry Govender In this feature in our series on “Struggle Heroes and Heroines”, veteran journalist, Subry Govender, recalls the life of George Gangen Ponnen, the son of indentured labourers who concentrated his entire life in improving the working conditions of the labour class and who made an invaluable contribution in the political struggles through the South African Communist Party(SACP), the Natal Indian Congress and the African National Congress. Ponnen, who returned from exile in 1994 to cast his “freedom” vote, died two years later in January 1996. During the course of my compilation of the profiles of struggle heroes and heroines, the veteran activists that I had interacted with came forward with the names of a string of people who played their roles in the liberation struggles. One of those activists is George Gangen Ponnen who, despite his poor and poverty-stricken family background, immersed himself fully from an early age in the trade union movement and the political struggles of the South African Communist Party, Natal Indian Congress and the ANC. During his involvement in the struggles, which began at a knitting mill factory in Umbilo Road in Durban in the late 1920s, Ponnen was instrumental in the establishment of 27 trade unions from 1936 to 1945. Who is this little known stalwart who made an indelible contribution in the struggles for a non-racial and democratic South Africa? According to the information I had obtained from his close comrade, Swaminathan Gounden, and others such as Judge Thuma Pillay, Ponnen was a “salt-of-the-earth” person whose work at grass-roots levels consolidated and promoted the work of his leaders in the different trade union and political movements. Ponnen was born on the June 1, 1913, to parents who had settled in an area called Rooikopjes, near Westville, west of Durban, after completing their five-year indentureship at nearby sugar estates. His father, Ponnen, and his mother, Gangamma, had been recruited from the Madras Presidency in South India in the 1890s. He was the seventh child in a large family of seven brothers and one sister. He started school at the age of seven in 1920 at the St Thomas Govt-Aided Indian School and his social and political awareness began at this time whenever he and his siblings used to visit the nearby areas of Westville and Durban. He found that the restaurants and cinemas were restricted for whites only and “Indian, coloured and Africans” were not allowed to use the best and safe parts of Durban’s beaches. In 1921 his schooling was disrupted when his father passed on and his mother was forced to move the family to an area in Durban called Manning Place. He had to leave school and started work at the tender age of 10 at a cigar company in Alice Street, Durban, to help his family. Although he was in and out of school whenever conditions improved in the family, Ponnen only managed to complete standard four in 1928. He worked at several knitting and clothing factories in the Umbilo Road area in Durban where he came face to face with the exploitation of Indian, African and Coloured workers. It was during this period that he befriended another worker, H A Naidoo, and both of them joined together to promote the interests of the exploited workers. It was during this period that Ponnen with Naidoo were drawn into the South African Communist Party.
They were the first South Africans of Indian-origin to be accepted into the SACP as full members in 1930. At this time he also became interested and attended meetings of the Anti-Fascist League that was established to counter a right-wing and reactionary organisation called, Grey Shirts. This organisation was affiliated to Hitler’s Nazi Organisation, that was busy holding rallies all over South Africa. Because of his activities, life for Ponnen was made very difficult by his employers in the clothing, knitting, iron and steel and other factories. At every turn he was dismissed when his employers found that he was involved in establishing trade unions and promoting the rights of the workers. He also had to put up with reactionary elements in the Garment Workers Union, which was started by a British immigrant, J C Bolton, to cater mainly for white and some Indian and Coloured workers. Ponnen clashed openly with Bolton when he called for African workers to be also registered as members of the GWU. He also clashed with another trade union leader who wanted to separate African workers from their fellow Indian colleagues. The African workers were told that “Indians were only shop-keepers and exploiters”. But when Ponnen told the workers that the “Indian workers” were also part of the exploited working class and the only one who owned a shop was the “reactionary calling himself a leader”, the African workers confronted the “opportunist” and made him run for his life. During this period, Ponnen and his friend, H A Naidoo, attended evening classes at the Indian Technical Institute in the former Cross Street, Durban, to further their studies. But he and H A Naidoo had to abandon their studies after they were overwhelmed by their trade union and political work.
Between 1936 and 1945, Ponnen with H A Naidoo, helped to establish 27 unions that included the Iron and Steel Workers’ Union, Sugar Workers’ Union, Dundee Glass Workers’ Union, SA Railways and Harbour Workers Union, Natal Coal Miners Union, and the Cigarette and Tobacco Workers’ Union. When organising the various trade unions, Ponnen recruited and trained hundreds of workers who became trade union officials in a number of trade unions. They included P M Harry in the Iron and Steel Workers Union; A P Pillay in the Sugar Workers Union; L Ramsunder in the Laundry, Cleaning and Dyeing Workers Union; P T Cooppen in the Sugar Workers Union; S V Reddy in the SA Tin Workers Union; M Ramcheran in the Tobacco Workers Union; K Johnnie Naiker, Laundry, Cleaning and Dyeing Union; Sam Pillay, Food and Canning Workers Union; N G Moodley, Brick, Tile and Allied Workers Union; M D Naidoo, Tea, Coffee and Chicory Workers Union; R R Pillay, Natal Coal Miners’ Union; E I Moola, Chemical Workers Union; Vera Ponnen, Mineral, Water and Brewery Workers’ Union; Stephen Dlamini, Textile Workers Union and the S A Congress of Trade Unions(SACTU); R D Naidoo, Bakery Workers Union; and Mannie Pillay, Biscuit and Confectionary Workers Union. At the same time, Ponnen organised the workers to participate in the political struggles of the Natal Indian Congress, the African National Congress and other progressive movements. The struggles he became involved in, included the Passive Resistance Campaign led by the Natal Indian Congress; and the Defiance Campaign and the Anti-Pass campaign led by the Congress Alliance that comprised the ANC, NIC, TIC, Congress of Democrats and the Coloured Peoples’ Congress. Ponnen also organised the formation of the Natal Indian Youth League with H A Naidoo and Sooboo Rajah in order to counter the reactionary political leadership that captured the Natal Indian Congress at this time. (Sooboo Rajah in the 1970s was associated with the non-racial Southern Natal Soccer Board that became fully involved in the struggles against apartheid sport. Rajah was involved with sports activists of the calibre of M N Govender, R K Naidoo, Ramhori Lutchman, S K Chetty and Dharam Ramlall at that time. At the same time while George Ponnen and his comrade-in-arms, H A Naidoo, consolidated their struggles in the trade union movement, they also became involved in the struggles to remove reactionary elements from the Natal Indian Congress. They recruited workers and campaigned vigorously with the open support of Dr Monty Naicker, George Singh, Cassim Amra, Dawood Seedat, E I Moola, P M Harry, M P Naicker, and M D Naidoo. More than 40 000 people attended a meeting at Currie’s Fountain in the late 1940s to express their disquiet at the reactionary policies adopted by A I Kajee, P R Pather and their officials who were leaders of the NIC at this time. During the elections, the reactionary group was overthrown and Dr Monty Naicker was elected president. George Ponnen was elected as one of the vice-presidents. He occupied this position until 1950 when he was served with a five-year banning order. At this time, Dr Yusuf Dadoo and his progressive leaders toppled the reactionary leaders of the TIC in the Johannesburg region.
Dr Naicker and Dr Dadoo joined hands to work with the ANC and other progressive forces in the country. But the white minority National Party Government at this time started to embark on a series of repressive actions and Ponnen was one of the activists who was detained under the 90-day detention law and later banned and house arrested for five years. When the ANC, PAC and other organisations were banned in 1960 and leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others were arrested and charged with treason, Ponnen was once again detained for 90 days and re-detained for 30 days. He was arrested and charged for refusing to give evidence in the Treason Trial in 1964. He was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment but he appealed against this sentence. He was given bail and during this “freedom” he skipped the country in 1965 to go into exile. He and his wife, Vera, went to Zambia via Botswana and for 10 years were involved in the work of the ANC and SACTU. Here in Zambia they established a clothing factory during this period to assist ANC members, refugees and their families. In 1975 the Ponnens moved to Canada where they joined their two daughters. For the next 15 years, he continued with the work of the ANC and travelled between Canada, Zambia and Tanzania. They also established a clothing factory in Tanzania to help refugees who sought the assistance of the ANC. Four years after they had settled down in Canada, his wife, Vera, died in 1979. This was a serious setback but Ponnen continued with his work for the ANC. In the late 1980s Ponnen was struck down with ill-health but despite this he followed with keen interest the political developments in his home country. There were behind-the-scenes talks between Nelson Mandela and the National Party regime and between the ANC and white business, political and social leaders. These developments led to the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990 and the unbanning of the ANC, PAC and other organisations. Despite ill-health, Ponnen returned to the country in February 1994 to cast his vote for a free South Africa, the ANC and Nelson Mandela. Two years after visualising his dream of a free South Africa, Ponnen died in Durban at the age of 83 on 9th January 1996. His funeral was held at the David Landau Community in Asherville.
The enormous contributions made by Ponnen for the improvement of the labour conditions of workers was highlighted in a letter published in the former Leader newspaper on July 21 1995. The writer, who signed off only as: “Exploited Worker”, paid this wonderful tribute to Ponnen: “More than 65 years ago George Gangen Ponnen, familiarly known as “G” in the ANC and SACP circles and some of his comrades, especially the late Mr H A Naidoo, fought tirelessly against unfair labour practices. “He was a great Tamil stalwart who at one time was called upon to give speeches in Tamil on socialism at the Drama Hall in Magazine Barracks, Somtseu Road, Durban, because majority of the residents there were Tamil-speaking. “I believe that there are few in the history of South Africa who have done more for the proper treatment of the worker than “G” along with some of his comrades. “Their efforts were a lead-up to the Labour Relations Act, which is currently the subject of great debate. “I trust that all the harsh treatment meted out to workers in the labour field of the new South Africa will be wiped out once and for all by the efforts of their success.” Veteran stalwart, Swaminathan Gounden, described Ponnen as a great revolutionary who sacrificed his life for the freedom of South Africa. Said Gounden: “I can only pay tribute to him by saying that he lived and worked all his life for the creation of a free, non-racial and democratic South Africa. Although he sacrificed a great deal, he had no regrets. All his life and all his work had been given to the cause of freedom in South Africa.” If George Ponnen was alive today, I am certain he would have been wondering what had happened to the true values and principles for which he and his comrades had fought and sacrificed their lives for. I am certain he would have set in motion steps to revitalise and re-activate progressive organisations for the people to feel free and involved in our new, non-racial and democratic South Africa. He would not have put up with a situation where people are made to feel that they are not South Africans. ends (