(PHOTOS SUPPLIED BY SHAMIM MEER - DAUGHTER OF FATIMA MEER)
In this feature in our series on Struggle Heroes and Heroines, veteran journalist writes about Professor Fatima Meer, a sociologist, writer, academic and anti-apartheid activist, who passed on in March 2010 at the age of 82. She would have turned 89 last week Saturday on August 12. Early this year in March an autobiography of Professor Meer’s life was published by her family. This special feature concentrates on an interview that Subry Govender conducted with Professor Meer in August 2008 when she was celebrating her 80th birthday.
“I lived in a South Africa which was full of challenges and I am grateful today that I more or less rose to the challenges. The challenges were our opportunities and we either grabbed those opportunities and ran with them or we were apathetic, turned our backs on them and lost out on what had been given to us,” Professor Fatima Meer was speaking in an interview with this correspondent at her home in Durban about her life and struggles against apartheid and white minority rule on her 80th birthday in August 2008.
She was one of the most prominent anti-apartheid activists who made an indelible contribution in the struggles prior to 1994. I had come to know Professor Meer very closely since the early 1970s when I worked for the Daily News at that time situated at 85 Field Street in central Durban. Professor Meer was attached to the then University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal) and was involved in a number of social and womens’ organisations.
(Fatima Meer with her husband, Ismail Meer, M N Pather, George Singh, Monty Naicker)
I would telephone Professor Meer on a regular basis about the work she was doing in promoting – among other things - social inter-action, upliftment of education among the marginalised and poor, and, her total rejection of those who worked with the apartheid regime in institutions such as the South African Indian Council (SAIC), the House of Delegates (HOD) and the bantustans.
She has been involved in the struggles almost all her life despite the harassment by the former security police, bannings and house-arrests, detentions, denial of a passport to travel overseas, and
an assassination attempt on her life while she was restricted at her home in Durban.
Her social and political awareness became enmeshed in her while growing up in a Durban home where her father, a newspaper editor, constantly spoke to his large family of nine children about the racial inequalities that persisted in South Africa at that time.
Her active involvement against the apartheid system started to surge forward during her student days at the University of Natal and when she became involved in the 1946 Passive Resistance campaigns. She initiated the Student Passive Resistance Committee.
With her husband, Ismail Meer, also a socialist and anti-apartheid activist, she worked very closely with Nelson Mandela, Dr Albert Luthuli, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Dr Monty Naicker, Ahmed Kathrada and Dr Kesavaal Goonum before the ANC was banned in 1960.
(FATIMA MEER ADDRESSING A UDF RALLY IN DURBAN)
Thereafter, she worked with leaders such as Winnie Mandela and Steve Biko, and other leaders in the black consciousness movement. She was also part of the leaders who established the Federation of Black Women.
For most of the 1980s and 1990s she concentrated her social and political work in the Institute of Black Research, which was based at the University of Natal.
Even after the ANC came to power in 1994, Professor Meer with other community leaders, established the Committee of Concern to highlight the plight of the poor.
At the time of her 80th birthday in 2008, there was disquiet among former anti-apartheid activists about all the reports of fraud and corruption; the growing gap between the rich and poor and the infighting within the ANC.
It was against this background that I spoke to Professor Meer about her struggles and what she had hoped for the new non-racial and democratic South Africa.
She was concerned at that time in August 2008 that the values and principles that she and tens of thousands of others had fought and died for had not been realised in the new South Africa.
(FATIMA MEER WITH NELSON MANDELA AFTER HIS RELEASE FROM PRISON IN FEBRUARY 1990)
“Although we applaud our constitution all the time and walk around thinking that we have the best constitution in the world, the truth of the matter is that democracy has evaded the people,” she had said.
“Democracy has been captured and confined to the political parties and that is our problem.
“It is very sad that when you think of the ANC as a liberatory organisation and what it has become as a government. Most of the promises of liberation have not been materialised. That is our greatest tragedy.”
She had added: “In general the governing body has not established equality. Poverty is rampant among our people, so we have to reform in true sense of the word to re-establish, reform, renew, and govern with the same values that you fought with.
“This corruption must end, the money must go back to the people, the land must be re-distributed among the people and we must develop our agricultural resources.
“Prior to colonialism we had a very strong and vibrant African peasantry. Colonisation destroyed that. It is our duty to resurrect that peasantry so that it becomes one way of dealing with poverty. If our people can't work the land and raise food from the land, there's going to be movement from the rural to the urban areas.
“Crime has to come to an end. So there's an enormous amount of work to be done. We can do it. India used to have its five-year plans under Jawaharlall Nehru and they worked. Today India is a great booming economy and we could also become like India.
“We have to have another government. Now I am quite convinced that the ANC will suffer an erosion in support in forthcoming elections. The electorate will be significantly weaker in numbers and that will reflect in the withdrawal of support of the people.
“People know exactly what is wrong and they are going to put it right and that is my hope and that is our hope.”
(FATIMA MEER WITH ADVOCATE ISMAIL MAHOMED, NORMAN MAILER AND BOBBY MARIE)
Meer also spoke about the lack of leadership among people of Indian-origin, saying she was concerned that the ANC needed to change its strategies in order to garner the support of a people who once worked very closely with the ANC and with organisations such as the United Democratic Front in the 1980s and early 1990s.
This was her view: “You see the Indians had a very strong organisation in the Natal Indian Congress and I wrote to Mr Mbeki long, long ago that it had been a tragedy that the ANC had asked the NIC to be disbanded. It was a tragedy because it was an organisation founded by Mahtma Gandhi in the last century. It was an organisation that stood by the ANC always.
“Now the ANC had made the biggest mistake, I had pointed out to Mr Mbeki, by saying to the Indians you don't need an Indian organisation, you can belong to the ANC.
“Politically, as a political party the ANC was fine and totally acceptable but to organise the Indian people, the Indian people needed an organisation.”
Professor Meer was of the view that the ANC had committed a major mistake and a dis-service to the people by forcing the disbanding of the NIC and thereafter getting into bed with the leaders of the former tri-cameral institutions.
“I consider that to be disgraceful and disloyalty to former patriots and to former partners in the revolution. The ANC deluded itself into thinking that these people represented the Indian people and that it would have the Indian vote and the Indian support through these elements. That was a mistake made by no less a person than Nelson Mandela and then it was continued thereafter. That is what I pointed out to Mbeki many years ago soon after he took over the leadership.”
What was her answer for strengthening the support base of the ANC within people of Indian-origin?
“I would prefer we resurrect our roots, our history and we revive the Indian Congress. The ANC must recognise the support the Indian Congress gave in the time of revolution and that today to, in the time of government, this support should continue.
“It should deal with progressive forces who have principles and programmes that are akin to the ANC, instead of going around piece meal, picking up people who have money.”
(A PAINTING DRAWN BY FATIMA MEER WHEN SHE WAS IMPRISONED AT MODDERBEE PRISON IN JOHANNESBURG IN 1976)Although Professor Meer’s call at that time for the revival of the Natal Indian Congress and the South African Indian Congress was discussed in certain progressive quarters, her suggestion was dismissed by other elements.
However, a number of former anti-apartheid leaders have discussed alternative strategies to garner the support of the people for the ANC, instead of the people moving to other reactionary political movements.
Professor Meer, who passed on nearly two years after the interview on March 12 2010, was a leader who was not afraid to speak her mind on socio-economic and political issues affecting the people.
This was also reflected in the nearly 60 publications and books that she edited and authored during her life. Some of these included Protrait of Indian South Africans, Apprenticeship of a Mahatma, Documents of Indentured Labour, Passive Resistance and Higher Than Hope, the first authorised biography of Nelson Mandela.
One of the publications she edited and published in 1989 was the 1985 Treason Trial that the former apartheid regime instituted against 16 top political leaders of the Natal Indian Congress and the United Democratic Front at the height of the struggles in the mid-1980s. Professor Meer with the assistance of a number of researchers chronicled the lives of the leaders – Mewa Ramgobin, George Sewpersadh, M J Naidoo, Essop Jassat, Aubrey Mokoena, Curtis Nkondo, Archie Gumede, Devadas Paul David, Mrs Albertina Sisulu, Frank Chicane, Ebrahim Salojee, Thozamile Gqweta, Sam Kikine, Isaac Ngcobo, and Ismail Mahomed, who was the defence lawyer in the case.
Despite her disillusionment at that time during the 15th year of our freedom, Professor Meer was still hopeful and confident about the future. She had said:
“I am hopeful because I think our people are aware of this and they will, just as our people won liberation for the country and established democracy, in the same way resurrect all the promises made to ourselves.
“So my hope is in the people's capacity and strength and the fact that the people hold values that the leaders may have somehow foresaken and forgotten.”
Professor Meer’s sentiments are becoming a reality when many leaders within the ruling ANC, former veterans and stalwarts, non-government organisations, religious organisations and civil society groups have come out bravely and openly to speak out against all the allegations of fraud and corruption, inefficiency in government services at national, provincial and local levels and the general falling standards in our educational and health systems that plague her beloved South Africa today, 23 years into our free and “non-racial” democracy. – ends firstname.lastname@example.org
(ISAAC MAMHA ADDRESSING HIS MOTHER'S 100th BIRTHDAY IN CANELANDS, VERULAM)
Today, the 23rd August 2017, we, members of the greater Muniamma Family, want to wish our Mamha, uncle, elder brother, father, grand-father and great-grand-father, Mr Ruthinsamy Munsamy “Isaac” Govender, better known as Isaac Mamha or Isaac Uncle, a happy and joyous 95th birthday.
Isaac Mamha was born on this day in 1922 to Muniamma and Coopoosamy Govender at Dayal Road in the former “Indian” village of Clairwood, south of Durban.
(ISAAC MAMHA AND HIS WIFE, KURPA)
He was part of a large family of 14 children, eleven of whom had survived to give birth to the greater and extended Muniamma family. His siblings were Baigium (Periamma), Nadasen Govender (Port Shepstone uncle), Licky Govender of Unit 7 Chatsworth, Soobramoney Govender of Isipingo, Valiatham Dick Govender of Isipingo, Salatchie Subramoney of Ottawa/Verulam, Savundalay Padaychee of Dundee, Patcha Govender of Unit 3 Chatsworth, Percy Boya Govender of Merebank/Chatsworth, and Amoy Moodley of Unit 3 Chatsworth.
Isaac Uncle, Savundalai aunty and Amoy aunty and their deceased brothers and sisters are second generation descendants of our ancestors, Kandasami Naiken and his “wife”, Thanji, who came to the former Natal Colony as indentured labourers in the year 1882.
At the time of his 95th birthday, only two of his sisters are still around, Mrs Savundalay Padaychee, of Dundee who turned 90 on July 8, and Mrs Amoy Moodley, who is 81-years-old. One sister-in-law, Mrs Soundler Govender (Percy uncle’s wife), who is in her 80s, is also around today.
(ISAAC MAMHA WITH HIS BROTHER, PERCY, AND SISTERS AT A FUNCTION OF THE MUNIAMMA FAMILY SOCIAL CLUB)
Uncle Isaac, who lives in Northdale, Pietermaritzburg, has come a long way from his early days at Dayal Road in Clairwood where in his youth he helped his father, brothers and sisters in cultivating their market garden. They cultivated a number of vegetables, including strawberries, which they used to sell at the historic early morning market in Warwick Avenue.
After a few years at primary school, Uncle Isaac did odd jobs before taking up catering at several hotels in Durban as his main work.
While still a young boy, Uncle Isaac, who used to attend Tamil classes and visit the local temples on a regular basis, also became interested in the Christian religion. But his interest in Christianity caused him unwanted problems with his family, especially his father and one of his brothers, who accused him of transgressing the family’s belief system.
On one occasion, after visiting a local shop in Clairwood, he purchased a photo of Jesus Christ for two pence (this was the currency at that time until the late 1960s). When he took the photo back home, he was confronted by one of his brothers who asked him this question:
“Why do you bring a white man’s God to our home?”.
But Isaac Mamha told me that he was not disturbed by this question and instead retorted as follows:
“Listen here Anna (big brother) I have paid for this photo and it belongs to me. It has nothing to do with you. You are not going to tell me what to do.”
(ISAAC MAMHA WITH HIS TWO SURVIVING SISTERS, AMOY AND SAVUNDALAI, AT A FAMILY FUNCTION AT THE JAPANESE GARDENS IN DURBAN IN JANUARY 2016)
Then on another occasion, after secretly converting to Christianity at the age of 17, Isaac Mamha was found by his father to be praying on the side of his bed.
His father was furious and grabbed a spear and started to run after him.
His mother, Muniamma, tried to stop the old man but Coopoosamy pushed her aside and scolded: “It’s because of you he is acting like this.”
He shouted : “He is praying to a pariah God.”
Noticing the seriousness of the situation he had found himself in, Isaac Mamha jumped through the window and ran to a nieghbour’s home for safety.
He stayed the night at the nieghbour’s home and the next day left home. He went to the home of a pastor in Beatrice Street in the then Grey Street area of Durban where he stayed for a few years while working as a chef.
His mother, brothers and sisters were not too happy about him leaving home and spoke to the old man to change his mind about Isaac Mamha.
While he was working at a hotel at Riverside in Durban, he got a surprise when his father pitched up and said he wanted to talk to him.
“You have been away for three years and it’s not nice that you are staying away. I want to you to come back home,” his father told him.
Isaac Mamha agreed to return to Dayal Road on condition that his father did not interfere with his religious affiliation.
But when he returned home, he got a shock.
(ISAAC MAMHA AND HIS ELDER BROTHER, NADASEN GOVENDER, AT THE HOME OF ANOTHER BROTHER, LICKY, IN CHATSWORTH, DURBAN)
“My father made a special room for me in the verandah where a separate plate and cup were provided for me. My father told me that I must eat on my own and that during weddings and other functions, I must not get involved.
“But of course this only applied when my father was not around. My mother and other brothers and sisters were very concerned about me and made sure that I was not treated separately.”
However, Isaac Mamha suffered more frustrations and inconveniences when his elder sister arranged for him to meet a young girl in the Merebank area. That girl turned out to be his future wife, Aunty Kurpa.
Although his father did not oppose his marriage, he insisted that he would not attend the wedding. At the same time he warned Muniamma and the other children not to attend the wedding.
But some of the brothers and sisters informed the old man that they were going to attend a Tamil movie at the Rani Theatre. They attended the wedding and Dundee aunty was the bride’s maid.
Isaac Mamha tied the “Thali” because of his own background and because Aunty Kurpa’s family were strong Catholic people who respected their family’s traditions and cultures.
After their wedding, Isaac Mamha and Kurpa stayed at Kurpa’s parents home for a while.
(ISAAC MAMHA WITH HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS AT A FUNCTION OF THE MUNIAMMA SOCIAL CLUB ON THE SOUTH COAST)
His father mellowed his attitude after Ruth and Able were born and they began visiting Dayal Road.
Isaac Mamha at this time was working at one of the hotels in Durban and he arranged for his brothers, Dick and Percy, to also work with him as page boys and waiters.
Then in the early 1960s, Isaac Mamha moved to Pietermaritzburg where he found a job at one of the top hotels. Here another three daughters – Selvie, Meryl and Dhaya were born.
(ISAAC MAMHA WITH ONE OF HIS GRAND-DAUGHTERS, MICHELLE MUNSAMI, AT A FAMILY FUNCTION IN DURBAN IN 2016)
After living in the “Indian” district of central Pietermaritzburg for some time, Isaac Mamha and his family moved to Northdale after they were also affected by the notorious Group Areas Act, which was enforced by the former apartheid regime to separate the residential areas according to race – white, coloured, Indian and African.
(ISAAC MAMHA WITH HIS LATE WIFE, AUNTY GRACE KURPA, and his late sister, Salatchie Subramoney)
Isaac Mamha has been living at this house with Aunty Grace and his family for more than 50 years.
Although he has been involved in the Christian religion for some time, Isaac Mamha has never forgotten his Tamil background, cultures and traditions. He managed to obtain a Tamil Bible and up to this day continues to sing religious songs in the Tamil language.
We want to wish him a very happy birthday and hope that he will still be around to see the golden age of 100 like his mother, Muniamma. Ends – email@example.com
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.
SUNNY GERJA SINGH - PROFILE ONE OF THE BACKROOM PERSONS WHO CONTRIBUTED ENORMOUSLY TO THE LIBERATION STRUGGLES
(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)
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org July 19 2017
By SUBRY GOVENDERA 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 – email@example.com