Un­wa­ver­ing hon­our

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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.

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