KN: You’re 89 and Moonsamy just over a year older. Where did your paths meet?
SG: Comrade Kay and I have been in the Communist Party of South Africa since 1944. We were also in the 1946 Passive Resistance, which defied racist laws. This campaign was led by the Natal Indian Congress and Transvaal Indian Congress.
KN: Moonsamy went to prison in the Passive Resistance but you were given other tasks, not so?
SG: That was Dr Monty Naicker’s decision. He was the Natal Indian Congress president and wanted us younger chaps to go out and recruit passive resisters. The resisters would gather at designated sites at the corner of Umbilo Road and Gale Street and face harassment from the police and white hooligans. It wasn’t long before they were arrested, convicted and sent to prison.
KN: Where did you recruit?
SG: My work was all over Durban but mainly Clairwood, Cato Manor, where I lived, and Magazine Barracks where I was born.
KN: Moonsamy had a special place in his heart for the people of the Magazine Barracks. Why was that so?
SG: The barracks housed the municipal workers, who were in the union called DIMES of which my brother, RK Gounden, was president for 25 years. He was a communist and influenced many of the workers to become communists too. Comrade Kay had the job of recruiting 34 000 new members for the NIC as part of the progressive AntiSegregation Council. Several hundred of those workers came from the barracks. All in all, 10 000 of those new members overthrew the conservative Kajee-Pather block to install Dr Monty Naicker as president of the NIC in October 1945 in Currie’s Fountain. Kay was proud of his part in radicalising the NIC.
KN: Until his passing, you and Moonsamy shared a special historical link with Dr Naicker?
SG: Yes, Kay, myself and Judge Thumba Pillay were the last three members of Dr Naicker’s NIC executive. Now there are just two of us.
KN: The two of you always described yourselves as party men first and foremost. What was the attraction of the Communist Party?
SG: Let me borrow Kay’s words here. He said the Communist Party of South Africa was the only party that was non-racial and believed in the equality of all. Although we joined other bodies like the unions, NIC and ANC, the red flag was our original home.
KN: Tell me about the political heydays of the 1950s.
SG: We were active all the time. The apartheid Nationalist Party came into power in 1948. In 1950 it passed the Suppression of Communism Act. That forced us underground but we continued to work.
Kay and I were active as volunteers in the 1952 Defiance Campaign. In 1955 we were among those collecting demands from workers for the Freedom Charter. I went to that historic meeting in Kliptown but Kay remained behind to fill in for another worker, who I think had just got married. In 1956, Kay was part of the 156 leaders arrested and charged in the Treason Trial. He was in the dock with people like Nelson Mandela, Yusuf Dadoo and Dr Naicker. That case eventually collapsed. The apartheid state expected to paralyse our movement by arresting our leaders but we just regrouped in the underground and continued organising.
KN: You ended up in a prison cell with Moonsamy in 1964. What were those circumstances?
SG: We were arrested in September 1964 under the Suppression of Communism Act and detained in solitary confinement. Those were called 90 Day Laws because they could hold you without charge for that period. We did not break under interrogation. The movement had taught us how to evade questions. Those charges were withdrawn when the movement took the state witness out of the country. While in prison, we were preparing our minds for Robben Island.
KN: That period of imprisonment was emotionally traumatic for Moonsamy, wasn’t it?
SG: I felt really sorry for him because his son was born while he was in prison but the Security Branch would not grant permission for him to see the child. He had a young family and, when he was instructed to leave the country, he was forced to leave them behind.
KN: You have described him as a highly disciplined cadre. What makes you say that?
SG: Kay did not question his instructions. He carried them out to the letter. He could have gone home to say goodbye and gather his belongings but he just followed his orders. When I talk to his children I see the pride they have in their father’s contribution. Both he and they suffered emotionally, but they bear that as a badge of honour that their father fought for freedom.
KN: Were you in contact while he was in exile?
SG: No, but my son Vasu did visit him in Lusaka during the period when the ANC was still banned and in exile.
KN: What are the values that you admired about Moonsamy?
SG: He was a cadre of the highest integrity, honesty, discipline and principle. He put the Struggle first without any hesitation. He gathered no wealth or personal possessions other than books. He was groomed in the Struggle. He lived for the Struggle and he died in the SACP and ANC. In everything he did he was caring – whether (be it for) the welfare of people in squatter camps or the hungry and destitute. He spoke up for the vulnerable and could be stern and cutting to make his point. His life’s mission was to destroy capitalism so that we could all be equal.
KN: Do you think that his contribution has been properly recognised?
SG: Kay always worked in the background. He was very modest. I am pleased that the government gave him an official funeral and that our flags were flown at half mast to honour him. President Jacob Zuma also gave him the Order of Luthuli. When we both received the lifetime achievement award from the Minara Chamber of Commerce a few months ago I was happy to see the enjoyment he had in talking to young people about the Struggle. Comrades from the SACP, who were mainly African, saluted (him) as a great worker hero at his funeral. We must guard that non-racial spirit that he worked for.
Swaminathan Gounden paying his last respect to his comrade of 73 years, Kay Moonsamy, on Saturday.