Memories of ‘Comrade Kay’
N 1965, Kesval (Kay) Moonsamy, facing charges of being a member of an unlawful organisation under the apartheid government’s notorious Suppression of Communist Act, fled the country and went into exile, initially into Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and later into various parts of Africa, notably Tanzania.
He also had a spell in exile in India, on ANC-related work.
It was at the height of the Nationalist Party onslaught against members of the liberation movement.
It was the period of heightened action against the liberation movements and key figures in the movement.
Moonsamy, who passed away on Thursday, was one of them.
He remained in exile until 1990, for something like 25 years, and during that time devoted himself under very difficult living conditions to the furtherance of the liberation struggle.
He was an avowed member of the Communist Party, loyal supporter of the ANC, committed trade unionist and, for the time I knew him, from about the late ‘50s until he left the country in 1965, a loyal and devoted member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), serving as its organising secretary.
We served on the executive together with Swaminathan Gounden, who survives with me as a member of the executive during Dr Monty Naicker’s presidency.
I am reminded by veteran political journalist Subry Govender of the pain which Kay must have endured when having to choose between family and an uncertain time in prison on the one hand, and going into exile to further the cause so dear to him, the liberation of all South Africa’s people from the yoke and horrors of apartheid to which, up to then, he had devoted his entire life.
He chose the latter and spent something like 25 years in exile, nearly all of it in Africa.
As one who was banned and restricted and served time in detention and also subject to disruption of family life, I am unable to imagine what it must have been like for Kay to have taken what must surely have been an agonising decision.
For those who do not know, when he took that hugely emotional and heart-wrenching step into the unknown, he left behind a young family, a wife and four children, the youngest being a boy (Rangan) only 9 months old, the eldest Tammy, 9 years old, and two younger daughters, Ragini, 6, and Saroj just 2.
One child was born when he was in detention.
Try as I might, I cannot conceive myself making such a decision.
He next saw his family 15 years later in Swaziland, by which time Tammy had married.
None but the bravest, the most optimistic and the most committed to the cause of freedom, take such heartbreaking and painful decisions, transcending that which is expected of husbands, fathers and breadwinners. So we salute not just Kay, but his family.
Those who knew and worked with Kay in exile have nothing but praise for his sterling contribution to the Struggle despite the serious injuries he suffered in a motor accident which left him with a lifelong limp. My contact with him was somewhat intermittent during my tenure as a judge and his stint as a parliamentarian from 1999 to 2009.
once facilitated by Kiru Naidoo, as we did when Saro and Suganya, the wife and daughter respectively of sadly forgotten stalwart of the Struggle MP Naicker, visited South Africa, we regaled each other (Swaminathan Gounden contributing) with stories of a bygone era, one of which is the following.
I relate it for no other reason than that it is indicative of Kay’s indomitable spirit as it happened just after a day he had been prohibited from attending a gathering as defined in the Suppression of Communism Act.
The story, as I recall it after more than 54 years, is the following.
It was an early evening of April 1, 1963 (he was served with the order on the March 31) when Kay called on me at my Jacobs Road home in Clairwood to accompany him to a cigar factory in Dayal Road, which was less than a kilometre away.
We walked to the venue and there I met a number of NIC activists. including Ebrahim Ismail and the late Emmanuel Isaacs.
The factory doors were all securely shut and lights put out save for that in the room where we huddled together for the purposes of approving a draft leaflet or something of that nature for a proposed protest meeting, the purpose of which I cannot now recall.
We were all aware that Kay was breaking his banning order by attending such a gathering and so every precaution was taken in terms of security.
Lo and behold, before the meeting quite got started, there was a banging on the door.
We remained silent in the hope that whoever it was would soon leave.
But the knocking became persistent and louder and we guessed it must be the Security Branch and the longer we persisted in not opening the door, the greater the likelihood of them breaking in.
In rushed a team of Security Branch policemen led by a Sergeant Nayager and a Captain Deysel, who had been sitting in a car keeping observation on the factory.
Obviously, we had either an informer in our midst or the telephones had been tapped.
We were all carted off to the Security Branch offices in Wentworth to be interrogated.
It marked my first ever detention and interrogation.
If for no other reason I remember it for being labelled a “coolie supporter of the ANC” during interrogation by a hostile Captain Van Zyl.
At the end of 1963, I was served with my first banning order.
The rest is history; the outcome of the ensuing trial of Kay can be read by legal eagles by reference to the reported case of the State v Moonsamy in the South African Law Reports 1963 (4) 334 NPD.
For those who do not have access, Kay was found guilty by the magistrate of attending a gathering as defined in the act in question and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.
On appeal, the conviction was set aside on the basis that the State had failed to prove the gathering was one contemplated by the act.
The judgment proved to be ground-breaking at the time and was referred to in the many cases that followed in the ensuing years involving banned persons.
The late Fatima Meer was one of many.
Kay’s attendance at the meeting was considered foolish at the time, but Kay was not the kind of person who would bow down to authority – particularly a despotic one.
The history of the Struggle shows him to be made of sterner stuff than most.
Sincere condolences to his family. They have every reason to be proud of Kesval (Kay) Moonsamy. May his soul rest in peace. It would be good to repeat for posterity the credo, which guided his every action: “All my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world – the fight for the liberation of mankind.”
Judge Thumba Pillay, Kay Moonsamy and Swaminathan Gounden at Resistance Park in Umbilo.
Pictured at Kay Moonsamy’s funeral were, from left: former eThekweni mayor James Nxumalo; Deputy Minister of Public Works, Jeremy Cronin; KZN Premier Willies Mchunu; and ANC presidential hopeful, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. RIGHT: The coffin draped with the South African flag.
T-shirts, bearing the face of activist Kay Moonsamy, was draped across the seats at the Clare Estate Crematorium hall.