TREVOR BONHOMME - A SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST WHO WENT THE EXTRA MILE TO HELP THE DISADVANTAGED
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org