DR DILLY NAIDOO - ONE OF THE STRUGGLE HEROES WHO PLAYED A "BEHIND-THE=SCENES" ROLE FOR FREEDOM AND LIBERTY IN SOUTH AFRICA
(Dr Dilly Naidoo(second from right) with Farouk Meer, Sunny Singh, Swaminathan Gounden, Paddy Kearney and Bishop Reuben Phlip)
In the late 1960s at a time when there was a lull in above ground resistance to the apartheid regime, a number of young activists came to the fore when they became involved in the revival of the Natal Indian Congress(NIC) to keep alive the freedom struggles. One of the low profile activists who played a key role in the re-launch of the NIC was a former student of the University of Natal Medical School, Dr Dilly Naidoo. In this “Struggle Heroes and Heroines” column, Subry Govender, reflects on the life of 76-year-old Dr Naidoo, a former Port Shepstone farm boy who became politically aware while completing his matric at Sastri College in 1960.BY SUBRY GOVENDER
CNR HOUSE IN THE FORMER GREY STREET AREA OF DURBAN
(Dr Dilly Naidoo and Strini Moodley in Rotterdam in Holland in the late 1960s)
Towards the end of his studies at the University of Natal Medical School in the late 1960s, Dilly Naidoo used to visit on a regular basis CNR House in Prince Edward Street in the former “Grey Street area” of Durban. In this building activists of the calibre of the late Mewa Ramgobin, lawyers, the late R S Nowbath and late Louis Skweyiya, and officials of the black consciousness South African Students Organisation (SASO) had their offices.
It was a period when there were very little activities in the “above ground” campaigns against the apartheid regime because of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and other freedom leaders, the outlawing of the ANC, PAC and other organisations; and the bannings and flight into exile of many other leaders.
NATAL INDIAN CONGRESS
(Dr Dilly Naidoo with Mewa and others when launching an NIC branch in Clairwood in 1971)
One of the organisations that escaped banning was the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) but for all intents and purposes it had been rendered ineffective because of the banning, detention and flight into exile of many of its leaders.
The apartheid regime was pushing ahead with its plans to impose the Bantustans, Coloured Representative Council (CRC) and the South African Indian Council (SAIC) on the African, Coloured and Indian communities.
“It was against this background that many of us used to meet at CNR House on a regular basis to discuss the way forward,” Dr Naidoo told me in a recent interview.
“Some of the people who frequented these intense discussions were Dr Jerry Coovadia, Dr Farouk Meer, Numsy Naicker, Louis Skweyiya, R S Nowbuth, D K Singh, George Sewpersadh, Basil Maharaj, R Ramesar, Rick Turner, Omar Badsha and occasionally Strini Moodley, Steve Biko and Saths Cooper.
“While we were holding our discussions, students, at the same time, were being mobilised by Steve Biko. The communities in areas such as Chatsworth, Isipingo and Merebank were also standing up against the imposition of the SAIC. They formed the South Durban Civic Association under the leadership of M R Moodley and N N Naicker.
“Our group at Mewa’s office in CNR House then decided that the time was ripe for us to revive the NIC as it was not banned. We had a very successful meeting at Bolton Hall early in 1971 with more than 500 people in attendance. It was unanimously decided that the NIC should be revived,” said Dr Naidoo.
“Thereafter under the interim leadership of Mewa we moved from area to area to set up branches in Merebank, Chatsworth, Isipingo, Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle, Ladysmith, Port Shepstone, Umzinto, Stanger, Tongaat, Verulam, Clairwood and Asherville.”
While they were busy politicising the people, the former apartheid security policemen were also very active, keeping a track on all the activists. MEWA RAMGOBIN
(Dr Dilly Naidoo - a creche run by the Chatsworth Health and Social Workers Association at an informal settlement near Chatsworth)It came as no surprise when in September 1971 just before the NIC was to be officially re-launched at a national convention at the Phoenix Settlement, north of Durban, the interim committee suffered a serious setback when Mewa Ramgobin was issued with his second banning and house arrest orders.
Then at the same time they faced resistance to the revival of the NIC by BC activists such as Strini Moodley and Saths Cooper who questioned the “Indianess” of the NIC.
“There was a lot of debate around this issue but we pointed out that no one was being excluded in terms of race,” said Dr Naidoo.
“We pointed out that because of the lull in political activity there was a need to carry the struggles forward. We held another meeting at Bolton Hall where Steve Biko, Professor Fatima Meer, George Sewpersadh and I spoke on the same platform about carrying forward the struggles.
“An NIC branch was formed in Central Durban and some of the BC people even became members. These people even came to our first conference at Phoenix where the NIC was re-launched in October 1971.”
It was at this conference that Dr Naidoo was elected secretary along with Mewa Ramgobin as president. Among the other officials elected were George Sewpersadh, who was chosen to act as President because Ramgobin was banned, Drs Meer and Jerry Coovadia, N N Naicker, R Ramesar, A S Chetty, D Budhoo, S P Patchai, Rabbi Bugwandeen and R B Chaudhary.
PROFESSOR FATIMA MEER
(Dr Dilly Naidoo with Fatima Meer, Ari Sitas and EU rep at a Aids Clinic in Durban in the late 1980s)Dr Naidoo worked with Ramgobin, despite his bannings, and the other leaders to promote the ideals of a non-racial and democratic society as envisaged by leaders of the calibre of Dr Monty Naicker, I C Meer, Fatima Meer, Ahmed Kathrada, J N Singh, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki.
Dr Naidoo held the secretarial position for three years and thereafter moved to his home town of Port Shepstone to promote primary health care while at the same time continuing the struggles for a non-racial and just democratic country through community involvement.
“Having trained as a doctor, and having personally experienced the suffering caused by illnesses, most of which could be prevented since poverty is the greatest cause of ill health, I became a strong advocate of primary health care. I saw PHC, as opposed to curative, hospital-orientated disease management, as being more cost effective, affordable and could be easily accessible. I, therefore, started a rural medical practice in Port Shepstone. During this time, I ran several rural clinics and saw patients at some large factories.” PORT SHEPSTONE TAMIL ASSOCIATION
(Dr Dilly Naidoo's grand-mother and other family members)At the same time, Dr Naidoo continued with the political conscientisation of the people through a number of community-based organisations. He became involved in the Port Shepstone Child and Family Welfare under the leadership of Dr Gabriel and Mr A.K. Naidoo; the Hibberdene Santa TB Centre; Port Shepstone High School Old Boys Club; Marburg Ratepayers Association with local activist Dr A E Gangat; Port Shepstone Hindu Education Society that operated the Jai Hind School; the Port Shepstone Doctors Guild and the Port Shepstone Tamil Association.
In 1987 after obtaining a Masters Degree in Primary Health Care, Dr Naidoo took up an appointment as District Surgeon in Chatsworth at a time when the political struggles were intensifying on all fronts.
Dr Naidoo used this opportunity to contribute to the greater struggles by launching the Chatsworth Co-Ordinating Council for Health, Welfare and Education. He worked with activists such as Maggie Govender, Charm Govender, Shoots Naidoo, H. Nobin, a former inspector of schools, and Mr B A Naidoo, a senior welfare activist at that time.
“Over 100 community-based organisations were affiliated to this body and we used it as a platform to take up various socio-economic issues and the campaigns against the Tri-cameral system that was imposed by the National Party Government.
WORK AMONG THE MARGINALISED
(Dr Dilly Naidoo - a creche run by the Chatsworth Health and Social Workers Association at an informal settlement near Chatsworth)
“Our Council was affiliated to the Shell Community Trust, and this enabled us to interact with organisations in areas such as Wentworth, Kwa Mashu, Lamontville and Phoenix. This became an effective networking agent and we did a lot of work among students by way of workshops and conferences during this vital phase of our struggles through the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM).”
Dr Naidoo also became involved in providing health care and support to thousands of refugees who were fleeing areas caught up in the internecine political violence between supporters of the ANC-UDF on one side and Inkatha, on the other.
“There was a mass exodus of refugees into Durban and its surroundings. I joined a religious NGO, Crisis Care, under Roger Govender, to provide support and assistance in Chatsworth.
“This gave us the opportunity to establish the Siyakha PHC Project, with Dr Selva Saman and Dr. Poonie Pather. We delivered PHC in nine informal settlements in Chatsworth, Umlazi and Inanda. We trained 90 community health workers from these settlements who were integral to health care delivery. We even had a refugee camp and clinic at Glebelands Hostel. ARCHBISHOP DENIS HURLEY
(Dr Dilly Naidoo - members of the Chatsworth Health Workers in the 1980s)The clinics were held twice a week in these areas and the project was supported by the Catholics Bishops Conference under Archbishop Denis Hurley and the European Union. “We also worked closely with the Institute for Black Research under Prof Fatima Meer and Ramesh Harcharan. This project endured for over 10 years until the new democratic government took over. Unfortunately, the paradigm of PHC was abandoned in favour of curative health care.”
When Nelson Mandela was freed and the ANC and other organisations were unbanned in early 1990, Dr Naidoo and his group of NIC and UDM activists saw the development as the start of the establishment of a truly non-racial and democratic society.
“We were all elated and full of expectations and all the activists were ready and looking forward to continuing the last part of the journey to our freedom.”
At the same time there was a great deal of debate about the continued existence of the NIC. Dr Naidoo was one of the leaders with Mewa
NON-RACIALISM THE KEY PRINCIPLE
Ramgobin who felt that it was now time to promote non-racialism without the drawbacks of ethnicity.
He joined the ANC and was involved in recruiting members in the Western Areas of Durban. He also served as the first treasurer of the ANC branch in the Western Areas.
“During the struggles against the apartheid regime,” he said, “our leaders had taken a principled stand on non-racialism”.
“This saw the different anti-apartheid organisations, though forced to do political work within its own groups, always striving towards achieving a non-racial, free South Africa with equality for all.
“In this sense, the NIC too, worked within the Indian Community, but within the coalition made up of the different organisations from all racial groups, all striving for non-racialism as the vision. UNITED DEMOCRATIC FRONT
(Dr Dilly Naidoo - Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma visiting a community clinic run by Dr Naidoo in Durban in the mid 1990s)
“At the height of the resistance, they all came together as the UDF and the MDM and the outcome was the CODESA negotiations. And the Constitution that we aspired towards was one that would entrench non-racialism. We no longer needed to fight within a strategy that forced us to remain apart.
“The danger of this would be for the different groups to work towards safeguarding their own communal interests in a country that was and still is, so unequal. This would only divide us even further.
“Under the circumstances, I was of the opinion that we ought to start thinking of ourselves as human beings, as opposed to Indians affiliated to an Indian Congress.”
IN THE first few years after the advent of our new democracy in April 1994, Dr Dilly Naidoo rendered his services at the Tongaat Community Health Centre.
And in 2004 when the ANC took over the government in KwaZulu-Natal, he served in the Premier’s Office. PRIMARY HEALTH CARE
(Dr Dilly Naidoo - his organisation providing service at a community in Inanda)
“I served as project manager for the establishment of PHC Community Centre Model in a deep rural region in a partnership between government and the Divine Life Society of SA.'
Dr Naidoo said today, 24 years into our new democracy, South Africa experienced the harsh realities of inequality, deep poverty and rising unemployment.
“It’s necessary for all of us to work as a united nation to bring about a better life for all. In the long term, if we do not join the fight against inequality, but continue to see ourselves as a more deprived group than the really deserving, not only does this go against the grain of our religion, but can also jeopardise our claims for being treated with dignity and circumspection by all South Africans.”
Dr Naidoo’s involvement in the struggles for a non-racial and democratic society had its origins when he was growing up as a young boy on a farm in the Port Shepstone area. ANDHRA PRADESH AND TAMIL NADU
(Dr Dilly Naidoo, his wife, Dr Poonie Pather, Sunny Singh and his wife)Born on February 5, 1942, Dr Naidoo’s father, Moonsamy Seethanna, and mother, Rajamoney, were second generation descendants of indentured labourers, who earned a livelihood as market gardeners. His ancestors, who arrived from villages in what is now known as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, worked as indentured labourers at a Tea Estate and a sugar estate in Port Shepstone.
“I know my parents made a living as farmers and they survived under trying conditions just like other members of the community. There were no luxuries such as running water, electricity or toilets.
“I began to question the conditions under which the people were living. I would join my father when he used to go to the morning market to sell bananas once or twice a week. I would assist him in the market and then go to school. This is where I became street-wise and began to see that there were others in the same or worse social-economic predicament as ourselves.”
The concern for the plight of the marginalised and disenfranchised people began to heighten when in 1957 he moved to Durban to attend high school at Sastri College. There was no high school in Port Shepstone and his parents made arrangements for him to stay with relatives and friends in Durban, so that he could attend Sastri College. PAT SAMUELS AND CLIVE VAWDA
(Dr Dilly Naidoo at their refugee shelter in Glebelands Hostel in the late 1980s. In the picture are Fatima Meer and reps of the EU.)
“My conscientisation began to grow when I was in my senior standards in 1959 and 1960. Our teachers such as Pat Samuels and activists like Clive Vawda had a great deal of influence on my thinking. At the same time I became aware and took notice of the resistance activities such as the extension of universities act, the potato boycott, the riots in Cato Manor against forced removals and the Sharpeville massacre. We as students were motivated by people like Samuels and Vawda and we began to take a keen interest in the rallies and meetings taking place.”
During his schooling, the young Naidoo excelled in soccer and played in the junior league. He played for Tulip Rangers and assisted the club to win the Natal Knock-Out Cup in 1960. He was also selected for Mayville District and for Southern Natal. In the South Coast League he played for Bridgeview FC.
But political activism took most of his time and when he started medical school in 1961, Dr Naidoo became fully involved in the various student activities against the apartheid system.
“As a student I chose to live at the student hostel in Happy Valley in Wentworth. Besides the medical students, there was a large number of students studying law and the social sciences.
LOUIS SKWEYIYA, BEN NGUBANE, DENNIS MADIDE, STEVE BIKO AND AUBREY MOKOAPE
(Dr Dilly Naidoo(second from right) with some of the veteran activists. Dr Farouk Meer, Sunny Singh, Swaminathan Gounden, Paddy Kearney, Bishop Reuben Philip and Logie Naidoo.)
“This is where there was heightened political activity and discussions with future leaders such as Louis Skweyiya, Ben Ngubane, Dennis Madide, and later Steve Biko, Aubrey Mokoape, Strini Moodley and Saths Cooper. There were also secret meetings with ANC leaders such as MD Naidoo and others who visited the campus secretly.
“My social consciousness developed and this moulded me into a student leader. We worked initially in NUSAS (National Union of South African Students) and then joined the move that established SASO (South African Students Organisation).”
During this time he made contact with Mewa Ramgobin when he and other students visited the Phoenix Settlement to provide community service at the health clinic run by Ramgobin and Ela Gandhi. They also provided their service at the Happy Valley Clinic in Wentworth.
“We were strongly involved in these institutions and saw first hand the hardship that our people had to endure, and the frustrations of not being able to adequately improve their lot. But there was nothing much that we could do as students, other than conscientising the other complacent students, the community at large, and taking up issues in the press and demonstrations.” STRINI MOODLEY
He served as chairman of the Medical Students Council and also Vice-President of the Association of Medical Students of South Africa. He travelled to Helsinki (Finland’s southern capital) in 1968 to represent the students at the World Conference of Medical Students.
He also travelled to Rotterdam in Holland with Strini Moodley to establish links with the university activists and doctors there to support their struggles in South Africa.
“On our return we started a number of projects, including a shelter for street children in Bottlebrush. I also went to India and Bangladesh as part of a South-South initiative for NGOs. This was part of a delegation of the Initiative for Participatory Democracy. All of this widened my horizons and vision and prepared me for the struggles against the apartheid regime.”
Although for the next three decades he became embroiled in the mass struggles, he chose to remain in the background.
Dr Naidoo, who is now retired from medicine, still continues to play a role in promoting the ideals and principles of non-racialism and democracy through the “South Africa in the Making” Exhibition being run by the Dr Monty Naicker Commemoration Committee in Durban.
He also serves as a trustee in the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
Dr Naidoo is married to Dr Poonie Pather, a family physician, who has been a central part of all his contributions. They have three adult professional children.
Their eldest daughter, Dr Prishani Naidoo, 43, a Ph.D graduate, is a senior sociology lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She has just been appointed the director of the Society, Work and Development Research Institute (SCOPE) at Wits University.
Their second daughter, Dr Sanushka Naidoo, 40, is a certified paediatric nephrologist, who is completing her doctorate at Wits University.
Their third daughter, Dr Kanisha Naidoo, 36, a Ph.D and medical graduate, is a molecular pathologist who is attached to the London Institute of Cancer and is completing her second post graduate finals.
She is the recipient of the Pioneer Award for innovative research, which carries a grant of two hundred pounds for cancer research.
Now that we are in our third decade of freedom, Dr Naidoo concedes that South Africans face many challenges of social and economic inequalities. He is also concerned about the rising problem of violent crime. “We have to work with all role players in order to ensure that we create a climate where social challenges such as poverty, inequality, unemployment and crime is eradicated from our country. In the final analysis there must a better life for all with equal opportunities in all spheres of life.”
ENDS – email@example.com (June 30 2018)