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.

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