MOON GOVENDER - ONE OF THE BACKROOM BOYS WHO PROMOTED NON-RACIALISM IN SPORT AT A TIME WHEN THE APARTHEID GOVERNMENT PRE 1994 TARGETED ANTI-APARTHEID ACTIVISTS.
(MOON GOVENDER AT THE ENTRANCE TO CURRIE'S FOUNTAIN IN THE ARELY 1970s)
During the hey-days of the historic struggles for a non-racial and democratic society there were many people who made their contributions from “behind the scenes” without the limelight that followed many of the activist leaders at that time. In this feature in our Struggle Heroes and Heroines column, Subry Govender writes about the life of Moonsamy “Moon” Govender, one of the unsung activists who for nearly four decades until 1999 played a pivotal “backroom” role in promoting Durban’s Currie’s Fountain stadium as the mecca of non-racial sport and society in general. BY SUBRY GOVNDER
"MR CURRIE'S FOUNTAIN"
“I started as a labourer and I was introduced to the caretaker who was then known as the Sardar. He gave me a mop and a bucket and told me I must go and start washing the toilets that were all constructed of wood and iron.
“From there I built myself and carried on.”
(MOON GOVENDER AT THE STANDS IN CURRIE'S FOUNTAIN)
Mr Moonsamy “Moon” Govender, who was known as “Mr Currie’s Fountain” for most of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, was speaking to this correspondent in early 2 000 after he retired a year earlier from serving as “captain” of the historic Currie’s Fountain stadium for more than 45 years.
He was 16-years-old when in 1952 he was recruited by the then secretary of the Durban Indian Sports Grounds Association, Mr Dave Moodley, to work at Currie’s Fountain.
“At this time,” he told me, “I was working as a waiter at the Durban International Club in the Grey Street area”.
“I got this job as a waiter after the famous educationist, Dr A D Lazarus, introduced me to the Durban International Club. My father used to at this time work as a gardener at the home of Dr Lazarus in Effingham Heights in Durban and on several occasions I used to join him at the home of Dr Lazarus.
“My father told Dr Lazarus that it was not right for me to work as a gardener as well and that he should try to fix me a job. That is how Dr Lazarus used his influence to fix me a job as a waiter.
“When working at the Durban International Club I met top people, including Mr Dave Moodley, who was the secretary of the Durban Indian Sports Grounds Association at that time. One day early in 1952 he approached me and asked me whether I would like to work for him at Currie’s Fountain. This is how I started work at Currie’s Fountain in early 1952.”
Moon Govender saw this move from the Durban International Club to Currie’s Fountain as a major step in his working life.
Although his entry into Curries Fountain started off at what could be described as an unpleasant experience, he quickly progressed from a toilet cleaner, grass cutter and labourer to the association’s office as a clerk.
When in the late 1950s, the then secretary of the Durban Indian Sports Grounds Association, Mr R S Govender, passed on, Moon Govender was appointed as the new secretary.
(MOON GOVENDER WITH ONE OF THE OFFICIALS, MR ROY RAJU)As secretary he came under the influence of some of the most prominent anti-apartheid sports activists who were not only committed to the promotion of non-racial sport but also the transformation of the apartheid social, political and economic areas of life into an equal and non-racial society.
Some of the forgotten veterans who influenced Moon Govender’s role in the promotion of non-racial sport were Mr E I Haffejee, who was president of the Durban Indian Sports Grounds Association from 1960 to 1964; Mr R Bijou, who was president of the Durban Sports Ground Association from 1964 to 1974; and Mr Ramhori Lutchman, who was president of the Durban Sports Gound Association from 1974 to 1982.
Mr Govender told me that he had heard from his fellow activists that the leaders who initiated the establishment of Currie’s Fountain were Mr Albert Christopher, who was the first president from 1925 to 1926; Mr S L Singh, who was president from 1926 to 1960; and political icon, George Singh.
(MR RAMHORI LUTCHMAN IS ONE OF THE OFFICIALS MOON GOVENDER WORKED WITH AT CURRIE'S FOUNTAIN)
Moon Govender also worked with sports leaders such as Abbas Rasool, who was president of the Durban Sports Gound Association and the Durban Football Association in the early 1980s; Rama Reddy, who was president of the South African Soccer Federation at that time; R K Naidoo, who was the first president of the SASF Professional League; Ashwin Trikamjee, who was also president of the SASF Professional League after Mr Naidoo; Charles Pillay, Vic Pillay, S K Chetty, Danny Naidoo, Norman Middleton, M N Pather, who was one of the top leaders of the anti-apartheid tennis union and SACOS, and Morgan Naidoo, who was involved in the non-racial swimming federation. He also came under the influence of non-racial cricket administrators such as Abdullah Khan, S K Reddy, Pat Naidoo, Harold Samuels, Krish Mackerdhuj, and Cassim Docrat.
(MR R. BIJOU IS ANOTHER OFFICIAL THAT MOON GOVENDER WORKED WITH AT CURRIE'S FOUNTAIN)
All these activists were involved in the international struggle to isolate apartheid sport until there was freedom for all South Africans.
Over the years since 1952 Moon Govender witnessed and participated in the struggles for non-racial sport from Currie’s Fountain.
“This is where non-racialism in all codes of sport was born at Currie’s Fountain,” he told me.
“And also to make it interesting we had people like Dennis Brutus and all the journalists who showed enormous courage in promoting non-racial sport at a time when the Government was only interested in harassing, intimidating, detaining, banning and denying activists their passports.
“These people used to come to Currie’s Fountain and they were always targeted by the security branch. In order to evade the security branch officers they used to run away from the stands and hide behind Currie’s Fountain. In order to protect them I used to go right in the front in the ticket box and watch for these security policemen.”
It was also during his term as “Mr Currie’s Fountain” that some of the finest football teams, footballers, cricketers and boxers who highlighted their skills at the mecca of non-racial sport. Some of the football teams include Aces United, Avalon Athletic, Moroko Swallows, Sundowns, Orlando Pirates, Berea, Hearts, Maritzburg City, Verulam Suburbs and Lincoln City. Some of the footballers who caught the imagination of the people during Moon Govender’s work at Currie’s Fountain included Sewnarain Lal, Lionel Homiel, Dharam Mohan, Excellent Mthembu, Gava Ellis, “Black Cat” Cele, Scara Wanda, Sugar Ray Xulu, Hector Fynn, Pat Blair, Charles Carey, Deena Naidoo, Dudu Munsami, Fikky Vally, Stanley Govender, Daya Maistry, Sadeck Ebrahim and Preston Julius.
(MR R K NAIDOO, who was president of the Federation Professional League (FPL), was one of the sports leaders that Moon Govender worked with at Currie's Fountain)
Currie’s Fountain also became a home for many anti-government activities by the black consciousness organisations and trade union movements such as Cosatu. One of the major events scheduled for Currie’s Fountain in 1974 was the pro-Frelimo rally that was organised to celebrate the rise of Frelimo to power in Mozambique.
But the security police and the authorities in Durban had other ideas.
“When the police came here they approached us and wanted to know what was going on because the rally was banned. We told them we are having a dance and all sorts of entertainment. But they didn’t listen to that. They said you are talking lies. They said they wanted to know the truth about where the BC leaders were.
“At this time Strini Moodley, Saths Cooper and also Steve Biko were inside the stadium. They were all under the stand where the referees used to change and no one knew about this except me. I told them there’s nothing happening here, you can see people are dancing.
“But the security police officer did not listen to me and he pulled me out and gave me a slap. Despite this harassment and intimidation by the security branch, I did not succumb to their antics. With the help of people like Luthcman, R K Naidoo, Morgan Naidoo, M N Pather, and other stalwarts we continued to make available Currie’s Fountain for the promotion not only of non-racial sport but also anti-apartheid organisations such as Cosatu, the BC movements, United Democratic Front and other organisations.
“We wanted to play our role in keeping alive the struggles for a non-racial and democratic South Africa.”
(MOON GOVENDER'S GRAND-FATHER AND OTHER MEMBERS OF HIS FAMILY AT THE DUFFS ROAD SUGAR ESTATE IN DURBAN IN THE 1930s)After 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from life imprisonment and the ANC, PAC and other organisations were unbanned, Moon Govender once again made available Currie’s Fountain as a venue for political rallies and the revival of political organisations.
When Moon Govender retired in 1999 after more than four decades as “Mr Currie’s Fountain”, it was the pinnacle of a working life that had its origins in the humble settings of a sugar estate at Ottawa on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast.
His father, Chinna Kollandrai Govender, came to South Africa from the Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu in south India. He first worked as an indentured labourer at the Ottawa Sugar Estate, north of Durban near Mount Edgcombe. His father, after serving his first five-year indenture, moved to Frasers Sugar Estate on the North Coast where he married his mother, Muniamma Govender.
Moon was born in April 1936 at the Duffs Road Sugar Estate where his parents moved to in the early 1920s. Moon was part of a large family of five brothers and five sisters.
(MOON GOVENDER'S FATHER, MOTHER AND OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS AT THEIR SUGAR ESTATE HOME ON THE NORTH COAST)
Like most children in the 1930s and 1940s, Moon Govender did not have the opportunities to further his education after attending primary school at the Jhugroo Government-Aiden Indian School in Ottawa for a few years at that time.
“I had to give up schooling because of the tough conditions at home. My father wanted me to start work and to contribute to the upkeep of our home.
(MOON GOVENDER IN HIS YOUNGER DAYS) “I used to go and work in the sugar estate, starting at five o clock in the morning and what we used to get for a day was two-and-half cents a day. We used to call it tickey.
“When it came to food I am not ashamed to tell you this that every day our favourite food was porridge and herbs.
“Despite my hard life and lack of a proper education, Curries Fountain gave me the opportunity to interact with some of the most prominent anti-apartheid activists and leaders and to make my contribution from the background to the freedom struggles.”
At the time of his retirement in 1999, Moon Govender lived with his wife, Priscilla, in Unit 10, Phoenix.
He passed on, on January 3 2008 at the age of 71. He is survived by his wife, five children, a number of grand-children and three brothers and four sisters who range in ages from 62 to 83.– ends (firstname.lastname@example.org) May 13 2018