Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Today, August 16 2017, is the 30th anniversary of the passing of our father, Mr Munien Subramoney Govender. At the time of his passing on August 16 1987, he was staying with his family at 30 Mimosa Road, Verulam. Prior to moving to Verulam in the late 1960s, our father and mother raised seven children and one adopted son at our home in Munn Road, Ottawa. Our father was born in Cato Manor where his parents, mother, Kaniamma, and father, Munien, set up home in the early 1920s. His father, Munien, came to the former Natal Colony as a young boy with his aunty from the village of Damal in the Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu. He was part of a large family of three brothers and six sisters. Only one sister, Meenachie, who lives in Phoenix, is still around today. The pictures of our father published here were taken when we were living in Munn Road, Ottawa and Lotusville, Verulam. His parents and sisters, Manna, Chapane and Meenachie, photo was taken in Cato Manor. On this day, August 16 2017, the 30th anniversary of his passing at the age of 69, we his children – Ambiga, Sadha(Subry), Nanda, Sydney, Kistamma (Violet), Nelson, and Natachthramma (Childie), grand-children, great-grand-children, and daughters-in-law want to express our sincere gratitude to him for working tirelessly with Amma to provide us the educational opportunities for us to better our lives. He was one of the volunteers who sacrificed their time at weekends and holidays to build the Jhugroo primary school for the community of Ottawa. He worked with people of the calibre of SS Maharaj, Munoo Maharaj, Badloo, Mr Singh of School Road, Mr Naicker and others to promote the importance of education in our lives. He and our mother, Salatchie, are always in our thoughts.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


(SUNNY SINGH AND HIS WIFE, URMILA, WITH NELSON MANDELA IN MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE IN THE EARLY 1990s) One of the backroom boys and unsung heroes of South Africa's freedom struggles is Durban-born - Sunny Gerja Singh. In this report on Struggle Heroes and Heroines veteran journalist, Subry Govender, profiles the life of this struggle stalwart who was imprisoned on Robben Island for 10 years for his activities on behalf of the African National Congress..……..
(Sunny Singh with late former Tanzanian President Julius Nyrere at the Hague late 1980s) Sunny Gerja Singh was born into a large family of five brothers and two sisters in 1939 in one of the most famous working class suburbs of Cato Manor in Durban. The area where he was born was known as Umkumbaan. His father, Girjabaksh Singh, came down as an indentured labourer from a village in the Bihar state of India while still a minor. He apparently accompanied some family members to work on the sugar estates as indentured labourers. His mother, Gumte Singh, was born here in the former Natal Colony. Sunny Singh remembers his father working as a rice farmer and hawker and his mother working as a machinist in a clothing factory in Durban. From an early age while still a pupil at the M L Sultan Seconardy School, Sunny Singh became aware of the exploitation of the poor by rich landlords.
(Sunny Singh with the Mayor of Amsterdam Van Thyn at the opening of the ANC office) The landlord of the property where they stayed in Umkumbaan was a “vicious exploiter” and Sunny was so upset about this oppressive attitude that he nearly set alight the landlord’s upholstery factory when he was 12-years-old. Later this consciousness developed into political activism when he personally experienced the oppression of the people through the then dreaded Group Areas Act. “As my political awareness grew I began to understand the bigger picture when the Group Areas Act affected our people right from areas such as Cato Manor, Riverside to Chatsworth. I began to search for organisations that were involved in the struggles and my first home was the Natal Indian Congress which I joined in 1958 during the ‘Potatoe Boycott’,” Singh told me in an interview. Sunny Singh became caught up in a number of battles. During the protests and campaigns against the arrest of the 156 leaders who were charged with High Treason in 1955 he went around and collected funds for the treason accused at the then Victoria Street “Indian” Market. He also took an active part in the centenary celebrations in 1960 of the arrival of Indians as indentured labourers to the then Natal Colony in 1860. “All these factors made one to become active through the Natal Indian Congress. My first contact with the leadership of the Natal Indian Congress was through people like Billy Nair, Kesaval Munsamy, N T Naicker and of course the leader of the NIC, Dr G M Monty Naicker.” After the ANC was banned in 1960 and the NIC was made virtually ineffective through bannings and detentions, Sunny Singh joined Umkhonto We Sizwe in 1962 and became part of a unit in Durban under the command of Ebrahim Ismail Ebhraim. “My first act of sabotage was on the railway line under the Victoria Street bridge which was the main track between Durban and Johannesburg and the offices of those who collaborated with the apartheid regime.” Sunny Singh was arrested in October 1963 along with 18 other MK activists and charged, convicted and sentenced to Robben Island for 10 years. Ten of the “MK soldiers” were Africans and nine “Indians”. His fellow comrades convicted included Billy Nair, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, Kisten Moonsamy, Kisten Doorsamy, Siva Pillay, Curnik Ndlovu, George Naicker and Nathoo Babania. They were all convicted of carrying out acts of sabotage.
(SUNNY SINGH, WIFE URMILA, AND A SUPPORTER OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN STRUGGLE) All of them were sentenced from five to 20 years “hard labour” on Robben Island. Billy Nair and Curnik Ndlovu were sentenced to 20 years each because they were found to be the leaders of the MK cell. Life was difficult on Robben Island and after 10 years of torture, he was released in 1964. When he walked out from the Durban Central Prison where the ICC stands today there was no one there to meet him. The warders told his family that they would drop him off at their home but on the day of his release he was just told to leave through the main gate. He was left on his own to find his way. He walked to a newspaper office to make contact with one of the journalists. “I tried to contact Dennis Pather if my memory serves me well. I wanted to get to the office of Phyllis Naidoo. I walked all the way holding my pants because I did not have a belt. I walked to a shop and bought a belt and two Sunday newspapers. “When I got to Phyllis’s office it was an emotional meeting. She laughed when I told her that I did not have underwear. She quickly gave one of her office secretaries some money to go and purchase me some underwear. “From Phyllis’s office I found my way to our old home in Umkumbaan. People were waiting for me and there was a lot of excitement, joy and emotions.” Five days after his release he was served with a five year banning and restriction order that prevented him from leaving home between 6pm and 6am and prohibited him from entering any other Indian, coloured or African residential area. He was under constant surveillance by the security branch policemen at that time. After a few months in Cato Manor, he applied for permission to move to Chatsworth. His mother used to travel from Cato Manor to Chatsworth to visit him on a regular basis. Although the banning order restricted him from meeting and talking to people, the resourceful Sunny Singh continued with his political and underground activities. “Despite the trying conditions and the constant surveillance of security branch people, I managed to carry out overt and covert work. I set up a structure in Unit 2 in Chatsworth to do some civic duties. “And in Merebank, I was involved in political educational with former BC members like Bobby Marie, Shamim Meer, Willie Lesley and Rubin Phillip. Some of these people later joined the ANC. “I also recruited into the underground Ivan Pillay, his brother Daya, Coastal Govender, Krish Rabilall, Patrick Msomi and his wife, Jabu. Krish Rabilall was killed during one of Pretoria’s strikes against ANC members in Maputo and Patrick and Jabu were brutally killed in car bomb explosion in Swaziland.”
(SUNNY SINGH AT A PROGRESSIVE MEETING IN DURBAN IN 2017) PART TWO On Christmas Day in 1976 six months after the Soweto uprisings, Sunny Singh left the country to join the ANC and MK in exile. “I left the country secretly in the company of another comrade, Riot Mkwanzi, who sadly is no longer with us today. We were met at the Swazi-Mozambique border by Jacob Zuma. “After spending three months in Mozambique I went to Tanzania and from there to Angola and then to the then East Germany where I underwent training in urban warfare. “I returned to Mozambique in 1977 and joined the Natal Command of MK under Zuma. Later Ivan Pillay and I joined the Political underground machinery under Mac Maharaj. After this I joined the MK Military Intelligence Unit under the command of Ronnie Kasrils. “After the murder of President Samora Machel by the Pretoria regime towards the end of 1987 we were given the marching orders by the Mozambican Government under pressure from the Boers.” During this period, Sunny Singh changed his name twice. First he assumed the name of Bobby Pillay and travelled on a Tanzanian passport and then later as Kumar Sanjay and used an Indian passport. During his long years in exile he worked with leaders such as Jacob Zuma and Mac Maharaj. He recalls that the Nkomati Accord signed between South Africa and Mozambique in March 1984 was a “heavy blow” for the ANC and its combatants. Mozambique was forced to sign the Accord after South Africa carried out a number of raids against ANC bases in the late 1970s and 1980s. One of the agreements of the Accord was that Mozambique should not provide refuge to ANC militants and soldiers and that ANC leaders and members should be removed.
(Sunny Singh at the South Africa in the Making museum at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban) “The Nkomati Accord was a heavy blow for hundreds of ANC members, including Jacob Zuma, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani. They had to leave Mozambique,” he said. “I survived and was appointed Chairman of the Military Unit. I had to traverse the whole of Mozambique to find ways to smuggle weapons from either Malawi or Tanzania. “This operation was time consuming and dangerous. But we were able to beat the restrictions on us by managing to smuggle weapons through the Maputo airport. One of the cadres, Catrinia, who I recruited into MK, was able to pull off this coup through her contacts at the airport. “Catrinia, who was known to all comrades and friends as Kate, is the late wife of Jacob Zuma. Through her efforts we managed to get our weapons flown from Angola to Maputo through Angola’s passenger airline, Taag. I would say Kate was one of our unsung heroines.” After spending a year in Zambia after being expelled from Mozambique in 1988, Sunny Singh was appointed the ANC’s Chief Reprentative in Holland from 1988 to 1992. When Nelson Mandela was released in February 1990 and the ANC and other organisations were unbanned, Sunny Singh was keen to return home. But he was advised by the ANC to remain in Holland to take advantage of the new political environment to promote the ANC as the leading force in political negotiations.
(Sunny Singh at the South Africa in the Making museum at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban) “1990 was a turning point in our struggles with the release of Nelson Mandela. When Mandela visited Holland in June 1990, I managed with the great support of the broader Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement to mobilise 20 000 people to greet Mandela in an open air rally in Amsterdam. It was a great day,” he said. When he returned home at the end of 1991, he continued with his political work and established an educational programme called CREDEP. This was a school project dealing with integration and challenges in the class room. They reached out to black townships such as KwaMashu and Inanda. “We even organised extra lessons on Saturdays and in three years, our projects managed to get 400 pupils to pass their matriculation examinations.” After the 1994 elections, Singh was drafted into the Crime Intelligence Service and worked as an officer in Durban. He served the intelligence service until 2008. Although Sunny Singh is now retired he’s still concerned about the socio-economic conditions of many communities. He’s currently a volunteer at “South Africa in the Making”, a project of the Monty Naicker Foundation. This project is based at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Sunny Singh, who worked under Jacob Zuma in Mozambique during the early years of his time in exile, finds the socio-economic and political situation disturbing. “We need to overcome our problems and divisions and concentrate our efforts in fulfilling our struggles for a better life for all South Africans,” he said. “We must struggle for a society where non-racialism and democracy also means that the lives of the most disadvantaged and the marginalised are also improved.
(Sunny Singh at the South Africa in the Making museum at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban) “We cannot have a society where only the privileged few are making hay in our new free South Africa.” Does he feel disillusioned in any way with the political infighting, leadership battles and the lack of values among some of the leaders? “It's a crisis that's paralysing our economy, unemployment is at a frighteningly dangerous level and moral leadership is affected. But I have hope. We have good citizens and there are still many good comrades in ANC. I am sure, sometime soon that there will be a positive outcome. “I am certain that we will resolve all these problems for the good of the country,” he said. – ends – subrygovender@gmail.com July 19 2017

Thursday, August 3, 2017


By SUBRY GOVENDER A MEMBER of national parliament, Trevor John Bonhomme, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 75, was a committed struggle stalwart, who went the extra mile to promote the well-being of the disenfranchised, discriminated, poor and marginalised people for more than 55 years of his life.
(Trevor Bonhomme when he was acting Mayor at a function at the DCC with Nelson Mandela) Born in Overport, Durban, in January 1942, Bonhomme was the fourth eldest of a large family of six brothers and five sisters. His father, Virgil Franz Bonhomme, and mother, Patricia, were ordinary working-class parents. They lived in a mixed neighbourhood and Bonhomme was initially unaware of the political oppression that people of colour were subjected to. Coming from a staunch Catholic family, Bonhomme attended the St Augustine Primary School, which was situated where the Denis Hurley Centre, in the Durban CBD, is now based. He, thereafter, attended Umbilo High School where he matriculated in the late 1950s. His involvement in promoting the well-being of his fellow people began when he started work at the Grafton upholstery company in the early 1960s.
(TREVOR WITH FORMER FINANCE MINISTER PRAVIN GORDHAN) His brother, Virgil, also started work at the upholstery factory at the same time. “Soon after starting work, Trevor was told that the labourers were only earning R9 a week and he told me and other workers that something must be done to help the labourers earn a decent wage,” recalled Virgil. “Trevor organised the workers and all of us went on strike demanding that the labourers be paid appropriately. Despite their dislike for Trevor, management decided to double the wages and pay the labourers R18 a week. But Trevor and I were blacklisted and in a matter of time, we were dismissed and prohibited from being employed by other upholstery companies.” Bonhomme, thereafter, continued with his trade union work and established the Furniture Trade Union in the late 1960s. At the same time his political awareness took root when the families in the Overport area where affected by the Group Areas Act with separate residential areas for coloured people, Indian-origin people, Africans and whites. Their property was expropriated and Bonhomme and his brothers and sisters were deeply affected by the forced removals from their roots.
(TREVOR WITH HIS WIFE, LORRAINE) In the early 1970s after Bonhomme married his wife, Lorraine, he moved to Newlands East where his community work for the underprivileged and deprived gained momentum. Bonhomme could not accept that people could not obtain sufficient water from the municipality and that they were unable to make ends meet because of their poverty. Together with other concerned residents, Bonhomme established the Newlands East Residents' Association to campaign for the poor and underprivileged. Bonhomme was concerned that the former white municipality was not doing enough to provide the necessary services for the people. “What Trevor found out was that other areas such as Wentworth, Merebank, Chatsworth and Phoenix were experiencing the same problems. "He joined hands with comrades such as Pravin Gordhan and Yunus Mahomed and initiated the establishment of the Durban Housing Action Committee to tackle the apartheid policies of the white-controlled municipality.”
(TREVOR WITH HIS THREE SONS) At the same time when 'coloured' leaders, Sonny Leon, David Curry and Norman Middleton established the Labour Party to fight for the rights of the people, Bonhomme was advised by his comrades to join the Labour Party. But this association was terminated after the Labour Party chose to contest the tri-cameral elections in the 1980s. Bonhomme and his family joined the Don’t Vote campaign to ensure the majority of the coloured and Indian-origin people did not vote in the elections. At this time he was leader of the United Committee of Concern, which concentrated in politicising the 'coloured' people against the tri-cameral parliament and the former white minority regime. He also secretly joined the ANC underground with Gordhan, Mahomed, Henny Ferris of Cape Town and other activists. During the height of the struggles in the 1980s, Bonhomme was arrested and detained for six months at Modderbee Prison in Johannesburg.
(Trevor Bonhomme with Kishore Harie)
(Trevor Bonhomme with Harry Naidoo, who visited him in December 2016 while on holiday in Durban from his home in Australia) When Nelson Mandela and other leaders were released and the ANC and other organisations were unbanned in February 1990, Bonhomme openly joined the ranks of the ANC. He was one of the delegates with Gordhan, Mahomed and others who attended the first unbanned ANC national conference at the now former University of Durban-Westville in the early 1990s. After the elections in April 1994, Bonhomme was elected to serve in the North Local Council and thereafter served as a local councillor in the eThekwini Metro.
(Trevor Bonhomme with Clifford Collings who he worked with in the United Committee of Concern) In 2006, he was elected as a member of the National Assembly, a position he held until his untimely death on Saturday. “While serving in the municipality and national parliament, Trevor never, ever forgot the people. He was always there and no matter the time, he would not turn away anybody without helping the people,” said Virgil Bonhomme. “I think the culture of helping the less fortunate has been embedded in him from a young age. He was always a humanitarian. "Although he was earning a decent salary as a councillor and MP, he never deserted the people and continued to stay in Newlands East where his family still reside. “Trevor became very, very disillusioned over the past few years because he was not happy with all the reports of corruption and state capture. "He felt that certain people were violating the values and principles for which leaders of the calibre of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and others had sacrificed their lives for. "He was a comrade who was not tainted in any way. He made sure he maintained his struggle credentials and integrity. Because of this, no one will be allowed to hijack his funeral for political ends.”
One of his daughters, Fiona Mariano, and sons, Bradley Bonhomme, said their father was not only a dedicated political activist but also a Samaritan, who cared about the welfare of the people in general. "He reached out to all disadvantaged people and whenever anybody turned up at our home here in Newlands East, he would always do his best to assist them," said Mariano. "He would never turn anyone away. Money did not matter to him. He always gave to the needy people without asking any questions." Both Mariano and Bradley said their father was also close to his children, grand-children, great-grand-children and his brothers and sisters. "He loved his family very much. He will be missed by all," said Bradley. They said their father, over the past few years, was deeply concerned about the political developments. "He questioned the issue of corruption and became very concerned," said Mariano. The former interim chairperson of the Active Citizens Movement, Siva Naidoo, of Tongaat, said Bonhomme was a tireless activist, who worked to promote the interests of the less privileged and disadvantaged. “I worked with Trevor for more than 40 years and I remember he pulled out from the Labour Party and brought in thousands of people into the progressive movements at that time,” said Naidoo. “I remember first making contact in 1977 with Trevor and other comrades such as Sydney Dunn, Jeanie Noel, Archie Hulley, Derick Mcbride, Eric Apelgren and the Mannings. "Trevor was passionate about overcoming white minority rule and bringing about a non-racial society where all South Africans lived in peace and harmony. All I want to say: ‘Hamba Gahle Trevor. The struggle continues’.” Bonhomme is survived by his wife, Lorraine, six children, 13 grandchildren, 14 great-grand-children and four brothers and four sisters. Ends – subrygovender@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Veteran activists elected as Patrons of new non-parliamentary organisation, Active Citizens Movement (ACM)

(Siva Naidoo, Mvuso Msimang and Ms Eunice David) By Subry Govender (
(Veteran activist Mvuso Msimang addressing the ACM launch) Five prominent veteran anti-apartheid and struggle activists have been elected as Patrons of the new progressive non-parliamentary forum, Active Citizens Movement (ACM), after it was officially launched at the St Aidan’s Church Hall in Durban on Saturday, July 22. They are Dr Albertina Sisulu, daughter of the late ANC president and South Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner Chief Albert Luthuli; Professor Jerry Coovadia, former official of the Natal Indian Congress and United Democratic Front(UDF); Judge Thumba Pillay, former NIC and UDF official and activist; Dr Zuleika Mayet, a veteran activist and author, and Dr Paddy Kearney, former executive official of Diakonia and social activist. Their elevation as Patrons took place soon after the election of officials of the ACM. Mr Ben Madokwe, a Durban activist, was elected as the chairperson. He took over from interim chairperson, Mr Siva Naidoo, former NIC and UDF activist of Tongaat, who held the fort since a new forum was mooted 18 months ago. Ms Eunice David, the interim secretary of Phoenix, was elected the deputy chairperson of the ACM; Crispin Hemson, general secretary; Xoliswa Ncani, administrative secretary; Himesh Singh, organising secretary; and R Karrim, treasurer.
(Veteran activist Trevor Bonhomme at the ACM launch) The guest speaker, Mr Mvuso Msimang, a former ANC MK struggle veteran, called on President Jacob Zuma to step down from office immediately in order to save the country from plunging into further problems. He was responding to a question after he had delivered his speech about whether President Zuma should “do the right thing and step down immediately”. “If Jacob Zuma did the honourable thing and stepped down immediately then he would save the country from further damage,” said Mr Msimang, who was a senior combatant of MK and the ANC during his many years in exile in Zambia and other countries. “Some of us back in 2014 made an attempt to talk to the President after the release of the Madonsela Report. We wanted him to step down immediately but we were not successful,” he said. “I am a stalwart and veteran and I want the leadership of the ANC to follow the values and principles espoused by the people who were involved in the struggles in the ANC, Mass Democratic Movement and the UDF. “But I think you have a bunch of bandits who have staged a coup in Government.”
Mr Msimang in his address supported the launch of the ACM and said that there was a dire need for civil society to become involved in the day to day struggles of the people. “My call is for action by civil society. South Africa is going through its most difficult times since the dawn of democracy in April 1994. What has brought this about is the paralysis of the ANC leadership when it has been faced with internal challenges. While the enormity and complexity of the challenges are not in doubt, millions of members and supporters expected the ANC to overcome these challenges. But this has not happened.” Mr Siva Naidoo, in his address as the Interim Chairperson, said there was a desperate need for organisations such as the ACM because “the dawn of freedom and democracy in 1994 led to political complacency that demobilised society as a whole”.
“We placed utmost faith and trust in the new South African Government. The politically-active citizenry relaxed and created an organisational vacuum in society. “However, once the nation noticed that governing structures were being disabled to serve the narrow parochial pecuniary interests of a few, we observed an upsurge in civil society activism in recent times.” He said the ACM was working with like-minded civil society organisations to tackle “State capture, rampant corruption, abuse of State resources, nepotism and cronyism”. “We deplore the prevalence of a materialist crass culture of greed that is eating at the soul of our beloved country.”
The new chairperson of the ACM, Mr Ben Madokwe, came out guns blazing by supporting the call for President Zuma “to step down immediately”. “Corruption cannot just disappear. We must actively participate to reclaim our country by removing those who are not serving the people. We must start with the Pressident,” he said. He encouraged concerned people to participate in protest actions on August 7 and 8 for President to step down. The protest actions would coincide with the vote in Parliament on August 8 when members would decide President Zuma’s fate.
Now that the ACM has been officially launched, it is expected to interact with similar progressive organisations around the country such Save South Africa, South Africa First, Freedom Under Law, Corruption Watch, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution and Johannesburg Against Injustice. Ends – subrygovender@gmail.com


( HESTER JOSEPH IN THE 1970s) INTRO: One of the back room persons who was an integral part of the black consciousness struggles in the 1970s and 1980s was Hester Joseph of Durban. Mrs Joseph – a former manager of the Diakonia Centre - did not allow the oppressive situation and the intimidation and harassment by the ruthless security police at that time to cow her down. In this week's feature on struggle heroes and heroines - Subry Govender profiles the life of Hester Joseph - who came from a very conservative background...... . Hester Joseph, who was born into a working class family in the Overport area of Durban in July 1950, became embroiled in the world of black consciousness in the early 1970s when she started work at the United Congregational Church at 86 Beatrice Street in Durban. At that time 86 Beatrice Street was the headquarters of the South African Students Organisation(SASO) and other black consciousness organisations. Here, while still in her teens, she came into contact with activists such as the late Steve Biko, the late Strini Moodley, Mandla Langa, Sam Moodley, Asha Rambally, Daphne Khoza, and the late Ben Langa.
(HESTER JOSEPH WITH THREE OF HER GRAND-CHILDREN AT HER HOME IN RED HILL, DURBAN) At this time another doyen of the struggle, the late Dr Beyers Naude, had started the SPROCAS group to politicise the white community and discussions were taking place to establish something similar within the black community. One of the activists at that time, Bennie Khoapa, was given this task and he initiated the Black Community Prorgammes (or BCP). “Benny Khoapa was appointed the Executive Director of the BCP and I was appointed the executive secretary. Hycinth Bhengu was the chairperson. SASO also had its offices there with people such as Asha, Steve Biko, Sam, Strini, Vino and Saths Cooper, Daphne Koza, Dawn Goodley, Ben Langa, Mandla Langa, and Mamphela Ramphele. “All these people helped me to shape my life and to become active in the struggles against the racist political situation at that time,” she told me in an interview. “I mean the thing that appealed to me about the Black Community Programmes at that time was that it was still involved with the church and came into contact with people like Dr Beyers Naude. “Little did I realise that I would be drawn into this fantastic community of people who were wanting to conscientise black people and that excited me. “Comrade Steve used to be absolutely wonderful. He was very gentle in explaining that we all have to work together to overcome the evils of apartheid. And this is what I began to feel. I soon felt that I found my niche with this group of people.” Her entry into black consciousness came after she began to question the issue of racism that prevailed in the compartmentalised communities that existed at that time. Her early life was confined to the small coloured community in the Overport area and her parents and her four sisters did not mix freely with other racial groups.
(HESTER JOSEPH WITH SAM MOODLEY ON HER 50TH BIRTHDAY) “A lady was employed to come and help us in the house and I remember a time when my mother discouraged us from chatting to her and talking to her about her family,” she recalled. “She told us that she was here to work and that she needed to work and go home. And I think that’s where it actually started and I began to question why should it be like that. And of course my meeting with Strini and Sam and others at 86 Beatrice Street further opened my eyes to the kind of society we were living in at that time. It was a natural progress from then on because I suddenly found people that I could talk to about the political situation in the country.” At this time in the early 1970s the dreaded security police kept a close watch on those entering and leaving 86 Beatrice Street. She remembers how on September 1974 when black consciousness leaders were attacked and arrested when they held the pro-Frelimo rally at the famous Currie’s Fountain soccer stadium.
(Hester Joseph and her husband, Harold Joseph, in their early years in the 1970s) “After they arrested a number of our people at Currie’s Fountain, they descended at our offices in droves and arrested a number of BC leaders. They showed no mercy to the people on this day. “It was only after the Frelimo rally that nine leaders of the BC movement - Saths Cooper, Terror Lekota, Aubrey Mokoape, Strini Moodley, Muntu Myeza, Vincent Nkomo, Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, Zitulele Cindi and Gilbert Sedibe were charged with terrorism and sentenced to Robben Island.” Hester Joseph was with the Black Community Programmes until it was banned in 1977 along with 18 other organisations. “I remember clearly that on the day the security police carried out sweeps throughout the country in October 1977, I was alerted that a car was waiting for me outside our home. “The security policemen informed me that they were taking me to our offices at the Congregational Church building because SASO, BPC, Union of Black Journalists (UBJ) and 16 other organisations had been outlawed. “When we arrived at our offices, the security policemen turned the place upside down. They literally trashed the place. They cleaned up the office of all our documents and took them all to their offices,” she said. She said the security police also raided their offices in Johannesburg, in the Eastern Cape and at the Zanempilo Clinic in the Eastern Cape. After the banning of BPC and the other organisations, Hester Jospeh joined the Diakonia Council of Churches where she joined a group of people who were passionate about promoting social justice through religion. Some of the people she worked with were Bishop Rubin Phillip and Paddy Kearney. She later joined the Ecumenical Trust, which also propogated the struggles against racism and minority rule. After a break of a few years, Hester Joseph returned to Diakonia and became the manager of the Diakonia Centre. When the country went to the polls in April 1994, Hester Joseph was one of those who was first in the line. “There was real excitement in 1994 especially because Nelson Mandela who was such an icon was free and leading us all to freedom. So yes I voted for the ANC in 1994 but the years after that I did not vote.” Today, 23 years into the new democracy, Hester Jospeh believes that while the new government has achieved a great deal, there's still much more to do, especially in the efforts to improve the quality of life of the poor, marginalised and the forgotten. “Politicians today don't have the same principles as the activists of the past. A large group of people I worked with never owned a car while they worked for justice, freedom and equal opportunities for everyone. I think one needs to lead by example.” Although Hester Joseph retired from Diakonia two years ago in July 2015, she is still involved in the social field as a Trustee of the Denis Hurley Centre in Durban.
Hester Joseph’s involvement during the struggles as a back-room person is best captured by Dr Mamphele Ramphele in her autobiography, “A Life”. Referring to Hester Joseph she wrote: “The success of new ventures often rests with sound administrative capacity – a factor which many radical movements ignore at their peril. Ms Hester Fortune, a beautiful and and self-confident woman who was executive secretary of the Black Community Programmes at 86 Beatrice Street in Durban, which became a hive of activity, attracting welcome and unwelcome visitors who wanted a piece of the action. Hester had the sophistication to keep a necessary balance in the office, avoiding complete openness and lack of discipline, whilst creating a welcoming, supportive environment where serious work was possible.” Ends - subrygiovender@gmail.com July 12 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017


(BY SUBRY GOVENDER) In this week’s feature on struggle heroes and heroines, veteran struggle journalist Subry Govender, writes about Bishop Rubin Philip, who retired in December 2015 as head of the Anglican Church in KwaZulu-Natal. He is one of the activists who has made an invaluable contribution to the political and social transformation of South Africa as a progressive leader of the church and a former black consciousness leader. Bishop Philip participated in the struggles without any fanfare and publicity.
(Rubin Philip 's father, Lutchman, mother Ethel and one of his sisters) “I became politically aware when growing up as a young boy in Clairwood, I began to ask questions about the poor conditions of the people. And later this awareness gained momentum when I came under the influence of black consciousness while studying to be a priest at the Federal Theological College in Alice in the Eastern Cape.”
( Rubin Philip (2nd from right) after being first appointed as a priest at the Anglican Church in Wentworth in 1971) Bishop Rubin Philip, who retired just over a year ago as head of the Anglican Church in KwaZulu-Natal at the age of 69, has been one of the activists and progressive leaders who involved himself fully in the struggles for a free, non-racial and democratic society from an early age. Born into a working class, Telegu-speaking family in the historical district and close-knit community of Clairwood, south of Durban, in March 1948, Philip started at a young age to question the desperate conditions under which his parents and other families had to survive at that time. His grand-parents came to the then Natal Colony as indentured labourers from a little village in the then area of the Madras Presidency. The Madras Presidency at that time in the 1860s comprised districts where the people spoke both Tamil and Telegu. After independence in 1947, the Telegu-speaking people became part of the state of Andhra Pradesh. “My father was a qualified chef and he gave that up and started his own little general hardware business. But that was not a success and it was during that period, as a teenager, I thought about our own situation and why we were struggling so much. “That got me to ask a number of questions about apartheid, about Indian people in the particular area where we were living. I began to ask why do they have to suffer so much and why they were being denied access to things that white people in particular were receiving,” Philip said in a recent interview.
(BANNING ORDER SERVED ON RUBIN PHILLIP IN 1973) His political awareness became clearer when in 1969 at the age of 20, he travelled to the town of Alice in the Eastern Cape to study to become a priest at the Federal Theological College, near the Fort Hare University. “Here, I started to engage people, mainly Africans. “For the first time I was living with people of all races. I was able to hear their stories first hand, the levels of their own suffering, pain and hardship. Then I started to ask the question what is the relationship between faith, particularly Christianity, and the suffering of black people, including myself. “And why was it that there was white Christians and black Christians and yet white Christians lived a very advantaged life, whereas the rest of the people were oppressed through policies created by white Christian people, English and Afrikaners. There was a real contradiction there. “We would spend hours and hours at the Seminary discussing these questions. They were very heated discussions. Then Steve Biko came into our campus and a branch of SASO was formed. I became its first chairperson. “By being involved and discussing issues, I realised that SASO was going to become a very important part of my life. SASO was answering questions for which I did not have answers before.
(Rubin Philip's colleague in 1972 - Ranwedzi Nengwekhulu) “At that time Black Theology and Black Power as it was called in the United States started to have its influence on black South Africans, especially people like us who were very radical about the state of things in the country at that time.” Rubin Philip had a calling to enter the ministry but never for one moment thought that studying at the seminary would change his life for ever. After he returned home to Durban at the end of 1971, he was appointed a minister at an Anglican Church in Wentworth. Here because of the proximity to the Alan Taylor residential quarters for black medical students, he re-established contact with Steve Biko and also came into contact with people of the calibre of Barney Pityana, Dr Mamphele Ramphele, Harry Ngengkulu, Ben Khoapa, Strini Moodley and Stanley Ngwasa. His involvement in black consciousness was further strengthened when he was elected vice-president in charge of International Affairs for SASO. “After my ordination, I continued to be involved in black consciousness movement. I was elected vice-president of the organisation and became involved in matters relating to international affairs. But further more I was involved in what we called Black Theology Project. Again it was an attempt to relate religion to political and social transformation.”
(Rubin Philip's colleague in the 1970s - Nyameko Pityana) While he continued his work to conscientise the people, the apartheid regime at the same time had other plans for him. When he returned from an overseas trip in 1973, the members of the dreaded security police at that time detained him at the then Jan Smuts International Airport (Now Oliver Tambo International) in Johannesburg. “When I arrived at the airport, my name was called out and I went to this room where I was beaten up by the security police. I was then told by the security police that if I didn’t stop my activities, they would get rid of my family. A few days later I was served with a five-year banning order.” Although his own banning and restriction order was lifted in 1976, repression was still at its height in the wake of the Soweto uprisings in June of that year and the country-wide student boycotts that followed. Thousands of people were detained around the country, many died mysteriously and affected families were left destitute. Rubin Philip entered the fray and with the co-operation of several other leaders established the Dependents Conference to assist affected families. He also initiated and became actively involved in the Natal Crisis Fund that was set up to bring relief to the thousands of people who were caught up in the political violence that gripped KwaZulu-Natal in the 1980s. At the same time he continued with his socio-economic relief work through the Diakonia Council of Churches and numerous other organisations. He had been involved with Diaonia for more than 30 years since the early 1970s and served as its chairperson for more than a decade. During his term at Diakonia, he worked with progressive church leaders of the calibre of Catholic Archbishop Denis Hurley, Manas Buthelezi of the Lutheran Church and Dr Norman Hudson of the Methodist Church. In addition to Diakonia, he worked and led a number of socially-active organisations to promote the human rights of the people.
(Rubin Philip's colleague in the 1970s - Strini Moodley)
(Rubin Philip's colleague Temba Sono in 1972) Rubin Philip like other comrades breathed a sigh of relief when political negotiations led to the downfall of the apartheid regime in April 1994. “I recall very clearly the day when for the first time in my life I had to vote. It was a very emotional day. After having filled in my form I was putting it into the box and I held it there for something like a minute and half and then when the voting form dropped to the bottom of the box I felt that for me it was a deeply spiritual experience. “I was at this time the Dean of the Anglican Cathedral in Pretoria. Something in me became unshackled and I first of all felt a deep spiritual feeling. I felt tremendously elated because it was the first time I had voted.” Rubin Philip was elected Bishop of the Anglican Church in KwaZulu-Natal in November 1995. He was ordained as the Bishop by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who Reuben Philip had befriended since his early days when studying at the Federal Theological College in Alice in the Eastern Cape. He was the first religious leader of Indian-origin to be appointed to this position in the Anglican Church in Southern Africa. He has used this position to continue with his socio-economic work alongside his spiritual duties. Over the past two decades since the advent of our new democracy in 1994, Rubin Philip has come out in full support of the Abahlali base Mjondolo, which promotes the welfare of informal dwellers. He was critical of the fact that the new South Africa was prepared to spend billions in hosting events such as the 2010 Fifa World Cup but yet was incapable of providing decent housing, water and electricity for homeless people.
(Rubin Phillip as chairperson of Natal Technikon) This is what he said about this anomaly: "If we can successfully host a massive event like the World Cup, spending billions, then why can't we provide water, electricity and housing for a handful of shack dwellers.” He has also been involved in the struggles by the people of Zimbabwe against the oppressive Robert Mugabe rule, leading the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum. As head of this Solidarity Forum, Bishop Philip successfully lodged an application in the Durban High Court to stop a shipment of arms and ammunition from China being transported from the Durban Harbour to Zimbabwe. Bishop Philip, who is still the Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum, recently held talks with some of the Zimbabwe political leaders in Pretoria. In 2012 when nearly 48 miners were shot dead by South African Police at Marikana, Bishop Philip spoke out strongly against the massacre of the people in our new democratic society.
(RUBIN PHILLIP AT THE RECENT MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR AHMED KATHRADA THAT WAS DISRUPOTED BY ANC YOUTH LEAGUE MEMBERS) He condemned the Marikana massacre as follows: "And so again, the truth of our country is in dead black bodies littering the ground. The truth of our time is that people asserting their rights and dignity have been brought down in a hail of bullets." Bishop Philip has also been fully involved in several organisations fighting the HIV-Aids pandemic under the auspices of the Diakonia Council of Churches, and in organisations such as the Independent Projects Trust which is based in Durban. Bishop Philip has also been involved in inter-faith organisations, promoting secularism, tolerance, solidarity, and peace against all forms of racism and inequalities. In this regard he has worked closely with Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish leaders to promote tolerance and understanding. Bishop Philip believes South Africa has come a long way from the days of apartheid but there’s still much more work to be done. “There’s no question that since 1994 there has been much progress been made in the country. However, we have not arrived in the promised land. We are still faced with high unemployment, the abuse of women and children, we are not united as a country, there’s still a lot of prejudice around, we still have a long way to go in terms of developing our people. Political freedom in our constitution has got to work itself out in touching the lives of ordinary South Africans whether they are in Phoenix, Chatsworth, Umlazi, KwaMashu or anywhere else.”
(Rubin Philip attending an anti-corruption protest meeting in Durban) “We started with our new political dispensation on a high. “Under Mandela we did very well as a country, we became progressive and we were dealing with many of the issues. I think Mandela’s greatest contribution was that he created a platform for others to come in and build a sound economy and sound political structures. ‘But that’s now vanished over the last 10 years. We first of all lost our moral compass that we used to fight for freedom. We challenged apartheid as an ungodly system that was immoral and inhuman. “Now to our disbelief we are doing the same. “We have a huge disregard for ordinary people and the way we show this disregard is by not creating enough jobs and by the corruption at the level of leadership, both in business and politics. We see it in education, which is a fundamental foundation for building a solid and strong South Africa.”
(Rubin Philip - with former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan at a recent meeting.) “I think the other issue we have not tackled seriously is that of race relations. Instead of becoming a stronger non-racial community, there are people within our society who have used race to gain economic benefits and political power. This has divided people along racial lines. The challenge for us is to turn this around because if we don’t resolve the racial discrepancies in our society this thing can explode.” He said this situation of racism has reared its ugly head despite the enormous amount of work that has been done over the past three decades to promote greater human rights values among the people. “There are still a number of organisations and individuals who are promoting greater respect among the people. However, given some of the tensions we are seeing at the moment, it is very clear not enough is being done. I think we all have a responsibility to overcome the distrust. “We cannot point a finger at any one or blame other people. We mustn’t forget our past that apartheid divided us along racial ghettos. “It’s still there. We don’t have to dig too much. So it requires a bit of humility among all of us, it requires for us to contribute to building the non-racial South Africa that we sacrificed our lives for.” Bishop Philip was deeply saddened by the corruption and self-interest that have become deeply imbedded in our socio-economic and political situation.
(RUBIN PHILLIP AT THE RECENT MEMORIAl SERVICE FOR AHMED KATHRADA AT SASTRI COLLEGE) “What I have seen in recent years has deeply affected me. The plundering of the resources and the wealth of this country by a few and the rest of the people are just being offered crumbs. No wonder people resort to violence but we don’t condone this. No wonder people take to the streets increasingly, no wonder people turn on one another. This has a lot to do with economics. And it is not as if we don’t have adequate resources in this country. We are one of the richest countries in Africa. It’s a question of not managing the resources properly and sharing the pie equally and not being corrupt and greedy. Some of us are saying that because we did not have this in the past and now I will take that by any means.” His tireless work for the socio-economic freedom of people has not gone un-noticed. Only recently he was given an award by a Durban Muslim organisation for his commitment to the socio-economic upliftment of the people. In 2009 he was given the Bremen International Peace Award in Germany for his commitment to the struggles against apartheid and his “ongoing work to offer solidarity to the displaced people, victims of persecutions and detainees”. In 2010, Bishop Philip was given the Diakonia Award in recoginition of his involvement in the anti-apartheid movement since the 1960s and his advocacy and involvement in the Zimbabwe crisis and to his solidarity with shack dwellers. Bishop Philip dedicated this award to the shack dwellers and all those who had stood in solidarity with the informal dwellers. Bishop Philip, who also served as Chairperson of Technikon Natal, was conferred with a honorary degree of Doctor of Technology: Public Administration and Social Services, in 2002 in recognition of his “outstanding service to the local community, his tireless efforts in promoting peace and reconciliation in our country, and his dedicated and invaluable commitment to Technikon Natal”. SOUTH AFRICAN LIAISON OFFICE Although he has retired from the ministry, Bishop Philip continues with his human rights work. He is now involved with the South African Liaison Office (SALO), which highlights critical socio-economic-political issues in South Africa. The organisation also works with the Department of Foreign Affairs in promoting the cause of human rights in many countries, including Zimbabwe and South Sudan. The situation of Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka is of concern to Bishop Philip. “We have been more concerned about human rights violations in our immediate vicinity and on the African continent. We now also have to look at situations like what is happening to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka who have suffered human rights violations for many decades and the massacre in 2009,” he said. RUBIN PHILLIP WANTS TO VISIT THE LAND OF HIS FOREFATHERS IN INDIA Bishop Philip in his retirement also wants to set aside some time researching his roots as he has very good memories of his early life growing up in Clairwood, south of Durban. “Clairwood had a wonderful community, it was vibrant, I loved that. There was a sense of belonging and sharing and it was quite cosmopolitan. There were people of all races who lived in Clairwood. “Although it was dominated mainly by people of Indian-origin, there were people of all races there, including whites. So that was good.” Although they were living under poor conditions, he has fond memories of how his father, Lutchman Philip, his mother, Ethel, and two other brothers and four sisters lived with community members in Clairwood. “We lived in a community that was like one large family. It is something that we miss today. It is a pity that we have today lost this type of neighbourliness.” All his siblings are around today with one brother living in the Eastern Cape and one still resident in Clairwood. All his sisters live in and around Durban. He wants to visit the area where his grand-parents came from. “I know that my grand-parents came from an area which is now in Andhra Pradesh. I want to make a tour to India next year in an attempt to connect with my roots. It would be wonderful to make this connection.” Ends – June 6 2017