The Naidoo-Pil­lays – A spirit of strug­gle

CityPress - - News - GARRETH VAN NIEK­ERK garreth.van­niek­erk@city­

A new ex­hi­bi­tion open­ing at the Apartheid Mu­seum to­day, called Re­sis­tance in their Blood, looks back at the story of the Naidoo-Pil­lay fam­ily, who for more than 200 years have stood at the front lines of po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism in South Africa, and their na­tive In­dia.

Sur­pris­ingly lit­tle is known about one of the most prom­i­nent fam­i­lies in the fight for free­dom. From fight­ing along­side Mo­han­das Gandhi in the Satya­graha move­ment and their rise in the ranks of uMkhonto weSizwe, to their re­cent pub­lic let­ter ad­dress­ing their dis­may at the cap­ture of the ANC – theirs is a story of strug­gle in the fight for a non-racial South Africa, one that has been lost in the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive.

Plaques placed in­side the mu­seum ex­plain the her­itage of the fam­ily. Af­ter be­ing shipped off from In­dia as slaves to the fer­tiliser fields of the British colony of Mau­ri­tius, Govin­dasamy Kr­ish­nasamy Naidoo – af­fec­tion­ately known as Thambi – and Do you have any sto­ries to share about the long his­tory of the Naidoo-Pil­lay fam­ily in the fight for equal­ity in SA? SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word PIL­LAY and share your story. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 his fam­ily boarded a pas­sen­ger boat to South Africa in the 1870s to find their for­tune in a new coun­try. Thambi would ul­ti­mately come to fight against Jan Smuts’ damn­ing Asi­atic Law Amend­ment Or­di­nance, which forced In­di­ans to reg­is­ter their fin­ger­prints and carry iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments at all times.

Thambi's wife, Parenithama Pil­lay, would also join the fight for free­dom, or­gan­is­ing a 300-strong march of In­dian women, most of whom were or­di­nary home­mak­ers, to re­sist the un­just laws be­ing put in place against In­dian South Africans. To­gether the hus­band and wife would join Gandhi’s Satya­graha move­ment, and would be­come the lead­ing pro­po­nents of its mes­sage of non-vi­o­lent re­sis­tance across South Africa.

“Per­haps the bravest of all is the in­domitable Thambi Naidoo. I do not know any In­dian who knows the spirit of the strug­gle so well as he does. He has sac­ri­ficed him­self en­tirely,” Gandhi once said of the pa­tri­arch.

Gandhi’s com­mu­nal Tol­stoy Farm – es­tab­lished by him and his friend (and ru­moured lover) Her­mann Kal­len­bach – would be­come a home-away-from-home for the Naidoo-Pil­lay fam­ily af­ter they lost their for­tunes in the fight against Smuts. It is one of four key lo­ca­tions in the Naidoo-Pil­lay fam­ily’s his­tory: another a home in Marabas­tad, Pre­to­ria; the third in Doorn­fontein, Johannesburg, and another in Lon­don, which would be­come a site of ma­jor apartheid re­sis­tance for ex­iled cadres.

Thambi youngest son Prema (72) said that see­ing his fam­ily on the walls of the mu­seum “feels very good, like ex­cel­lent tim­ing”.

Prema’s brother, In­dres, was im­pris­oned on Robben Is­land for sab­o­tage in 1963. Prema him­self was in and out of prison a num­ber of times in the 1980s and was se­verely tor­tured by apartheid po­lice.

He was a ward coun­cil­lor in the City of Johannesburg, and serves on the board of the Ahmed Kathrada Foun­da­tion. Many of his fam­ily mem­bers protested Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s ax­ing in March of then fi­nance min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han.

For the next gen­er­a­tion of the fam­ily, the fight con­tin­ues, he says, “with a lit­tle help from us”.


Imam and Thambi Naidoo The Naidoo-Pil­lay women of the Satya­graha move­ment


Shan­thie Naidoo at an anti-apartheid de­mon­stra­tion in Lon­don, flanked by Fred Car­ne­son on the left and Hugh Lewin on the right

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