Wednesday, May 31, 2017


A first generation descendant of indentured labourers from North Arcott in Tamil Nadu, who has worked most of her life on the sugar cane fields on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, turned 100 on May 6. Mrs Gengamma Subramoney, whose parents arrived from a village in the North Arcott District of Tamil Nadu in the late 1890s, was born on May 6 1917 at the Hullets Sugar Estate in the town of Kearsney on the North Coast of the then Natal Colony ruled by the British. Her parents, Seelan Subbiah and Ganamma, were indentured at the Hullets Sugar Estate. Two other siblings, Mariamah, and S P Naidoo, were also born at Kearnsey. The eldest sibling, Gurumah, was born in Tamil Nadu and was brought to the then Natal Colony by her indentured parents. After Gengamma’s parents completed their first term as indentured labourers they moved to the nearby Tongaat Sugar Estate. Here her parents and all the children toiled in the fields as labourers.
(GENGAMMA WITH HER LATE HUSBAND, SUBRAMONEY GOVENDER) When the children reached 10 years and older, they were forced to toil in the cane fields as labourers. They earned as low as one (British) pound per month and lived in very poor conditions. While the parents worked in the sugar mill, the children worked in the cane fields as labourers. As the children grew up, their parents taught them a lot about their Tamil culture and traditions. From this knowledge, the children helped to build temples in the towns of Tongaat and Mt Edgecombe, north of the city of Durban. When the children were between the ages of 18 and 21, the parents moved to another estate in a place called Spitzkop, near Tongaat. Gurumah, the eldest daughter, had an arranged marriage to a first generation descendent of indentured labourers and moved to the Tongaat Sugar Estate. When Gengamma turned 21, arrangements were made for Gengamma to marry Subramoney Govender, also a first generation descendent of indentured labourers. Here too, Gengamma joined her husband to work in the sugar cane fields, planted paddy rice, vegetables and sugar cane. Despite the hardships and tough conditions, Gengamma and her husband, pursued with their lives and had ten children. Her sister Mariamah had four children and moved away to an area called Malacca Road in Redhill, near Durban. Her brother, S P Naidoo, had four children and lived side by side with his father, mother and sister.
One of Gengamma’s sons, Mr Kista Govender, who now lives in Red Hill, near Durban, recalled that life was very tough for his parents and the children. “My mother endured many hardships, especially with the upbringing of the children. “We had to walk 20km a day to get to school and she used to worry about our safety. As a mother she also had to carry water in buckets for about 2km just to ensure that we were comfortable and had food,” he said. He said he had recollections of the 1949 riots and how his mother took precautions to ensure that all of them were safe. “During the riots, I was about three-years-old and can remember how my mother grabbed the children late at night and ran into the bushes for safety. “In about 1959, we had to move to another Sugar Estate in an area called Kranskloof. After we became teenagers, we got married and moved out to settle in and around Tongaat, Durban and Johannesburg.”
He said his grand-father died at the age of 120 and his grand-mother at age 60. “Of the first generation family members, only my mother is alive today, celebrating her 100th birthday.” Most of Gengamma’s sons are still involved in farming on the North Coast. Two of the sons live in the rural area of Isenembe, one in the town of Shakakraal, and one in Tongaat. One son lives in the township of Phoenix, near Durban, and one sister resides in Johannesburg. One of the sisters lives with Gengamma in Isenembe. While farming has been in the blood of the Gengamma family, most of her grand-children and great-grand-children have migrated to other fields such as Information Technology, electronics, education, mechanical, entrepreneurship, insurance and logistics. Gengamma has visited Tamil Nadu in order to connect with her roots but she was not successful in making any contacts with the family of her parents.
“After being away from my grand-parents roots in North Arcott, my mother found it very difficult to locate any one related to us,” said Mr Govender. She has also visited Bangkok, Singapore, Mumbai, Dubai, and Mauritius. In South Africa she has visited Cape Town. Despite losing her parents, husband, two of her children, 3 daughters-in-law and two grandchildren, Gengamma at the age of 100 is still going strong. Mr Govender said the family members wanted to salute their mother for being such an inspiration to the family, friends, temple members and children. “Hard work, positivity, strength and wisdom have been her recipe for a long life. Most importantly, her days as a labourer and working on the fields have kept her strong and healthy. Her dedication, commitment and faith in prayer have seen her through her difficult times, especially dealing with death of loved ones.” “Our mother has taught us to respect and pray before you start the day. She has sacrificed all her life for us and we believe that we have to express our gratitude to our mother for all she had done for the family. She bore her hardships without any complaints and went the extra mile to ensure that all her children went to school and progressed in life,” said Mr Govender. “Up to this day, she is able to do washing, cooking and cleaning with ease. Her favourite food is calabash and sour herbs. She makes the best fish curry.” In order to honour their matriarch, a 100th birthday celebration was organized by her eight surviving children, 28 grand-children and 30 great-grand-children at the Tongaat Town Hall on May 21. Ends –


(SAM MOODLEY AS A YOUNG ACTIVIST ADDRESSING A BC rally in Durban) In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the philosophy of black consciousness had caught the imagination of hundreds of young activists in the struggles for freedom and human rights in South Africa. One of those who became involved was Sumboornam Pillay, who later became known as Sam Moodley. In this week’s report on struggle heroes and heroines, veteran journalist, Subry Govender, brings you the life of this former Dundee High School girl who became a formidable force in the BC movement.
(SAM MOODLEY, SATHS COOPER AND VINO PILLAY IN A BLACK ON WHITE PARODY) POLITICAL AWARENESS BEGAN AT DUNDEE HIGH SCHOOL IN 1962 In 1961 when the former apartheid regime had pulled out from the Commonwealth and declared the country a Republic, all the separate Indian, white, coloured and African schools were forced to raise the new apartheid flag and show their allegiance to the white-run South Africa. At that time, Sumboornam Pillay, who later became known as Sam Moodley after marrying another Black Consciousness activist, Strinivasan Moodley, was a 13-year-old pupil at the Dundee High School in the then Northern Natal. Her school was preparing to celebrate the Republic Day. But young Sumboornam found that her cultural teachings did not allow her to celebrate something that was discriminatory in nature and against the human rights of the people. “It was the first time that we as children at school were asked to raise the flag but a number of people talked to us and called on us to stay away from the Republic Day celebrations. We stayed at home as we all refused to have anything to do with the flag-raising ceremony,” she told me in an interview. FATHER - MR V P PILLAY - A MAJOR INFLUENCE
(SAM MOODLEY'S COLLEAGUE STEVE BIKO AT A SASO MEETING IN DURBAN IN THE 1970s) In her early years her father, Mr. V. P. Pillay, had a major influence on her upbringing because of his work in school building projects, housing and welfare work in Dundee. His religious teachings in Saivism also gave direction to her social and spiritual leanings of “treating all people with the humanity they deserve”. The close-knit families in Dundee enjoyed cross-cultural engagements and black families (Indian, coloured, and African) lived side by side, sharing and protecting each other until the impact of the Group Areas Act that slowly crept in to separate the three groups. Her activist mind gained momentum when during her matriculation year in 1965 she vocally articulated her disapproval of the lack of provision of teachers at the Dundee High School. “There were no ‘political protests’ in those days. I led a delegation to the Principal objecting to substitute teachers who were sent to replace our Maths and History teachers who had resigned. “They were unqualified in these subjects and were sent as punitive measures to rural areas. They refused to teach material they knew nothing about. It was their form of protest. So we had to teach ourselves,” she said. Her father, the only breadwinner of a family of six had to get a loan to send her to University on Salisbury Island, the only University College for Indian-origin students in Durban. STRINI MOODLEY AND OTHER BC ACTIVISTS
Here she met with people like Strini Moodley, Dennis Pather, Kriba Pillay, Asha Rambally, Kogs Reddy, Ben David, Roy Tathiah, Nash Naina, and Archie Augustine. All of them became involved in a Black Theatre protest group. “We produced the first satirical review looking at the political conditions in South Africa. The review was called Black on White that ran for three years from 1966 to 1968.” It was the beginning of her life as a cultural activist, using theatre to conscientise communities about the socio-economic and political situation in South Africa. She continued with her black consciousness activism when she obtained a teaching job at the Witteklip High School in Chatsworth in 1970. However, the authorities and the notorious Security Branch at that time did not take this too lightly. She found herself being unemployed at the end of 1972 when the then Indian Education Department refused to renew her contract. She had lost her teaching job and had no support from her fellow-teachers. She said: “Generally teachers were silenced out of fear of the draconian measures taken by the State then. Nobody, not even the Teachers Association of South Africa (TASA), made representations, even when they were called to do so. WITTEKLIP HIGH SCHOOL IN CHATSWORTH, DURBAN
(SAM MOODLEY TODAY AT HER HOME IN NEWSLANDS EAST IN DURBAN) “However, the 1972 Students at Witteklip Secondary were infused with the determination to change the conditions in their communities, especially among the youth. They formed the Chatsworth Education Through Theatre(CHETT) group and in 1973, when I was banned, a few of them were arrested by the Special Branch and were forced to give evidence in a case against me, which case was eventually dropped.” For Sumboornam the years 1970 to 1973 were the most politically-active years. Within the South African Student Organisation(SASO) and Black Community Programmes (BCP), together with the protagonists of the Black Consciousness Movement like Ramphele Mamphele, Debs Mashoba, Vuyi Mashalaba, Steve Biko, Barney Pityana, and Strini Moodley, they engaged themselves in community development projects like building of schools, establishing health clinics, literacy programmes, women’s programmes and engaged in self-help projects. “This was also a time of using theatre as a form of revolt, as part of our Cultural Revolution. We held Theatre Festivals bringing theatre groups from Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and made Durban a buzz place of cultural activities. Durban was exposed to avant-garde theatre for the first time. During this time we were still under the vigilant eyes of the Special Branch who followed our every move.” When she was forcibly dismissed in early 1970s from the teaching profession by the former Indian Education Department because of her political activism, this gave her a chance to join Steve Biko, the leader and founder of the black consciousness movement in South Africa. She joined the Biko team as an assistant researcher for the Black Community Programmes(BCP). JOINED STEVE BIKO IN BLACK COMMUNITY PROGRAMMES
(SAM MOODLEY WITH ONE OF HER FRIENDS IN 2017) At this time the BCP was situated in the then Beatrice Street in Durban, the heart of what used to be known as “Little India”. “Steve and I seemed to have crossed paths at the same time because while he was expelled from UNB (University of Natal Medical School Black Section), my services were terminated and we found a home in Black Community Programmes. I became Steve’s research assistant, researching for a book called Black Review. We joined in January 1973 but Steve was banned by March 1973 and I was then banned and house-arrested in August 1973 for the next 5 years.” The years under the banning order and house arrest were difficult. “I had no employment. Seeking employment meant walking the streets, requesting for jobs even as a messenger, a filing clerk or a ‘tea lady’- I saw the dignity in labour and any job meant putting food on the table. But doors were closed on me for fear of intimidation by the Special Branch. “My heart went out to S.E. Mansoor and Co. who had the courage to employ me selling first, 3rd Party Insurance Discs (which was once a year) and then long term Insurance, which failed because one had to see to clients at night and that was impossible because I was under house arrest.” During the last year of her banning and house arrest, Sam Moodley became involved with the then Natal Indian Cripple Care Association and later with the Spes Nova School for cerebral palsy children at Clare Estate in Durban. The Special Branch at that time, however, continued with their harassment and she was forced to obtain a special permit from the Durban Magistrate to continue with her work as a speech therapist.
(ONE OF SAM MOOLDEY'S NIECES PRAISES HER FOR HER CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE LIBERATION STRUGGLES) NATAL INDIAN CRIPPLE CARE ASSOCIATION “I was still under a banning order and as much as the Natal Indian Cripple Care Association had won a battle for me to get my job as a speech therapist, I was not allowed to be on an educational campus. I subsequently got permission from a Magistrate for a month before actual permission came from Pretoria. Thereafter I had to get a letter every month or else I would have been arrested. This went on until the order expired in 1978,” said Moodley. In the 1980s, Sam Moodley got involved in the Disability Movement in South Africa, the Women Teachers Movement, became the Vice President of the Tasa Women Teachers Organisation and worked with the Children and Womens’ Programmes within Umtapo. She also began the Participatory Education Through Theatre (PETT), working with students at high schools, universities and teacher training colleges. “Much of my time was also spent initiating and holding workshops, empowering and enriching the lives of people with disabilities through the Arts, under an Organisation called Very Special Arts”. BC WAS LEFT OUT OF POLITICAL NEGOTIATIONS FOR NEW SOUTH AFRICA When negotiations began between the ANC and the former National Party Government in the early 1990s, she was not too impressed because the BC movement was completely isolated from the process. A pained and hurt Sam Moodley did not vote in the first democratic elections on April 27 1994 not only because of the exclusion of BC and other political formations in the liberation struggle, but “because of the fact that candidates were calling for votes based on ethnic lines (the coloured vote, the Indian vote, the African vote)”. DID NOT VOTE IN THE FIRST ELECTIONS IN 1994 “This divisiveness was fragmenting South Africa and worked against the BC principles of ‘One Nation One Azania’. I also felt that if I voted it would give legitimacy to those in parliament who participated in apartheid structures and collaborated with an abhorrent system that kept us divided along ethnic and racial lines.” After the dawn of the post-apartheid era, Sam Moodley continued with her activist work, believing in and supporting the cause of black consciousness. She never gave up on engaging with various communities. Her passion has always been with women and youth. In fact from 2008 to the present day she has been part of a collective of women who started an organisation called Women in Action South Africa (WIASA). As a social action group, Sam Moodley and her comrades are concerned with various social issues that affect women and youth in Merebank, Wentworth, Umlazi, Sydenham and Newlands. “We help to co-ordinate discussion groups, conversations, and workshops around socio-political, cultural and ecological issues. It has always been our aim to build capacity within women so that they would empower themselves and the communities within which they work to act as agents and catalysts for change. “It has always been my dream to resuscitate a womens’ movement that is so lacking today.” DISAPPOINTED WITH THE ANC GOVERNMENT When I first interviewed Sumboornam in 2009, 15 years into the new South Africa, Sam Moodley was not too happy with the performance of the ANC Government. She told me then: “I admit, that lots have been done in terms of housing, in terms of education but I still question the fact: ‘are we free?’ Are we truly free in the sense when we ask ourselves about the type of education we have. The same question crops up regarding our health system (poor infra structures and provisions). With housing when you look at the RDP housing, these are match-box houses. Is this dignified living? “We talk about the right to life and living but can we say that we are really free when there are muggings and killings. There’s also mismanagement of funds and corruption is rife. For me the situation is not what I believed in. May be it was Utopic but the reality is that we are not truly liberated. Any way what sort of freedom are we talking about and for whom?” I met with her recently, eight years later, and today in 2017 Sam Moodley is still concerned. “Freedom is what we have sacrificed our lives for. But what has changed? “The contract to build a nation free from hunger, disease, poverty, ignorance, has not been fulfilled. The inequality gap between race, class, gender has widened. Physical and psychological oppression remain a stark reality we have to face each day. Bureaucrats cling to power, and self interests take precedent over the needs of the people of this country. There is still a need to build a nation filled with dignity, self-respect, security and peace.” Ends –

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Africa’s premier tourism trade show, which has been underway in the South African coastal city of Durban over the past three days, drew to a close on Thursday (MAY 18 2017) evening. The tourism indaba has been held in South Africa for more than 20 years and this year attracted more than 7 000 participants – who included government and private tour operators from Africa, Europe, America and other parts of the world. The main theme of the trade show was to promote Africa as a premier tourist destination. Subry Govender visited the tourism indaba at the International Convention Centre and filed this radio report.... .

Monday, May 15, 2017



Monday, May 8, 2017


(A S CHETTY MEETING NELSON MANDELA IN THE EARLY 1990s) In the struggles against white domination and apartheid in South Africa, many South Africans made enormous contributions for the realisation of the democratic society we enjoy today. One of those we remember in this feature is Appiah Saravanan Chetty, who was a trade unionist and social and political activist of note based in Pietermaritzburg. He passed on in September 2 000 at the age of 72 when he was serving the new South Africa as Deputy Mayor of Pietermaritzburg. Subry Govender, who interviewed Chetty in 1998, pays tribute to yet another stalwart who sacrificed his life for a free and non-racial South Africa. (Photos supplied by photo-journalist colleague, Shan Pillay) BY SUBRY GOVENDER “Well I don’t think one needs to look at ourselves as the Indian community. I am saying that the only way in which the Indian community can entrench itself, is for the people to get interested and to involve themselves in the political affairs of the country. We are South Africans first and foremost and that is what is important.” Appiah Saravanan Chetty, who was popularly known as “A S Chetty”, was speaking to this correspondent in November 1998 at his deputy mayoral office in Pietermaritzburg. Because of his struggle past, he was recruited by the ANC to help in the administration of local government as a councillor. I had made arrangements to interview him at a time when some people had already started to question some of the policies of the new ANC Government, especially its affirmative action policy and its commitment to non-racialism. I wanted to obtain his views on the new South Africa as he was one of the people who had devoted his entire life to the freedom of the people. Born in Dean Street in Pietermaritzburg on April 3 1929, A S Chetty was involved in the political struggles as a journalist, trade unionist, official of the Natal Indian Congress, United Democratic Front and the ANC. He also played a leading role in the adoption of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown, Johannesburg, on June 26 1955.
(A S CHETTY TAKING THE OATH OF OFFICE AS DEPUTY MAYOR IN PIETERMARITZBURG AFTER THE ADVENT OF OUR NEW DEMOCRACY) His political awakening began while still at high school and when as a teenager in the 1950s he joined the Natal Indian Congress. He worked with luminaries such as Dr M M Motala and Archie Gumede in the early 1950s to gather the views of the people in all corners of Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas for the drafting of the Freedom Charter. He was also a social worker and a person who took a keen interest in the arts and culture. He was also a Tamil linguist of note. His strong bond for the Tamil language and music was nurtured by his grand-parents who had been recruited in the 1860s to work as indentured labourers on the sugar cane fields of the then Natal Colony. He first came under the scrutiny of the former dreaded Security Branch while working as a trade unionist in the 1950s. During this period the Security Branch made it very difficult for him to be employed in the Pietermaritzburg area and life became extremely difficult for him. He only earned a salary on a permanent basis and felt secure when he joined the Pietermaritzburg Indian Child Welfare Society in the 1980s. While working for the Child Welfare Society, he also became actively involved in civic affairs as an official of the Combined Ratepayers’ Association. He also committed his activist services to the Pietermaritzburg Community Chest, Gandhi Memorial Committee, Greys and Northdale Hospital Boards and the Midlands Hindu Society.
(AS CHETTY WITH NELSON MANDELA AT A FUNCTION IN PIETERMARITZBURG DURING HIS TERM AS DEPUTY MAYOR) Like other political, trade union and social activists he was arrested under the State of Emergency in 1960, imprisoned for 98 days, and then was banned for five years from 1973 to 1978. He was banned again for two years in 1981. In 1983 he was again detained, and subsequently placed under house arrest from 1983 to 1988. In 1988 he was banned for the third time for a period until early 1990 when all bannings and restrictions were lifted by the F W de Klerk Government. Prior to the advent of the democratic order in April 1994, Mr Chetty associated himself in the early days of the struggles with leaders of the calibre of Dr M M Motala, Dr Omar Essack, Moses Mabhida, Archie Gumede and S B Mungal and in the 1980s and 1990s with leaders of the calibre of George Sewpersadh, Mewa Ramgobin, M J Naidoo, Dr Farouk Meer, and Paul Devadas David. During the transitional stage after Nelson Mandela was released and the ANC and other organisations were unbanned in early 1990, Mr Chetty played a leading role in mobilising the people to become involved in the ANC. After 1994, Mr Chetty became a member of the Pietermaritzburg Msundusi local government and Deputy Mayor in 1998. Mr Chetty, who at one time was the joint secretary of the Natal Indian Congress in Pietermaritzburg, agreed during the interview in 1998 that the Natal Indian Congress, the South African Indian Congress and the Transvaal Indian Congress had played major roles in the political struggles up to the early 1990s. But in the new, democratic South Africa, South Africans of Indian-origin had to align themselves with the democratic forces of the country. He said: “One time ago we did have the Natal Indian Congress. The Natal Indian Congress did play its role, politically speaking. But today we have the African National Congress which is the majority party in parliament and as I could see it, the ANC will be the ruling party for some time to come. If we continue to look ourselves as Indians politically-speaking, then we would be lost without a political party. As far as I am concerned, the best political party that can accommodate the majority’s aspirations in this country is the ANC.”
(A S Chetty with his wife, Saras, at a function in Pietermaritzburg post-1994) Mr Chetty also had some clear views about the application of affirmative action, a subject that to this day still promotes disillusionment among some people. He said: “I think sooner or later the old progressive movement must start looking at the question of affirmative action very seriously and closely. At this moment in time, the dust is still in the air. Once the dust is settled down we will be able to state from the State that these jobs must be given on merit. When this happens, then only we would be able to say that affirmative action must be positively spread among the four racial groups.” Mr Chetty has not been forgotten now that he is no longer with us. One of the government buildings in Church Street, Pietermaritzburg has been re-named as the “A S Chetty Centre”. This is an apt gesture as those who knew him at close hand, like veteran Pietermaritzburg journalist, Shan Pillay, say “A S Chetty” committed himself to the freedom, social, civic and community struggles despite the hardships he suffered at the hands of the Security Branch and difficulties in finding a secure full-time employment for most of his life. All of us should not only continue to remember Struggle activists like A S Chetty but also try to emulate today their phenomenal lives. Ends –