‘My dad, the political icon’
CAMARA Moodley is the eldest daughter of Strini and Asha Moodley. Camara is one of three children, having an older brother, Germane, and a younger sister, Tamzyn.
She describes herself as a generally happy and a joyful person. In addition to being an avid foodie and Liverpool FC fanatic, she takes great delight in meeting new people.
Camara currently works as a sub-editor and journalist at a community-based newspaper and lives in Greenwood Park.
Her dad, Strini Moodley, was born on October 29, 1946, in what was previously called Natal.
Moodley matriculated in 1964 from Sastri College and began his tertiary education at the University College for Indians on Salisbury Island.
Narainsamy Moodley, Strini’s father, was very involved with the South African Communist Party, which motivated and nurtured his political awareness.
Camara recalled: “He was a poet, writer and playwright. On Salisbury Island, he together with like-minded friends, produced the satire, Black on White. It poked fun at life on the island, which they regarded as a bush or apartheid college.”
As a playwright he scripted numerous productions, which depicted the lives of black people during the apartheid era.
His work caught the eye of Steve Bantu Biko as the plays demonstrated Black Consciousness. Biko invited Moodley and the rest of the cast to perform their productions shortly after discovering Moodley’s talent.
Thus it was during Moodley’s time as a writer that Biko and he became great friends.
Moodley became an important figure in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), which emerged as a social movement for political consciousness soon after the Sharpeville Massacre and the banning of the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress.
In 1968, during the development of the South African Students Organisation (SASO), Moodley was accepted as a member.
In 1970, Moodley was a founding member of arguably one of the most important theatre movements of the 1970s, The Theatre Council of Natal. TECON was one of numerous arts and culture organisations associated with the Black Consciousness Movement.
Moodley was also appointed regional organiser of the Trade Union Council of South Africa in that year.
Under the Suppression of Communism Act, Moodley was banned for participating in the Durban strikes of 1973. However, that did not stop him from continuing as an activist of the BCM.
Moodley ran and managed the head office of SASO, which was based at 86 Beatrice Street.
He travelled extensively by train and bus to the various “black” campuses around the country, rallying and building up support for SASO.
The campuses included the local University of Zululand at Ngoye, the campus for so-called coloured students at Bellville in the Western Cape, other “bus colleges” at Turfloop (University of North), Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, and teacher training institutions for black students in the then Transvaal.
The result was the creation of a firm foundation and network of branches of SASO, which formed the platform for the building of the BCM. He was engaged in this work until he was banned in 1973.
In 1974, following the Frelimo Rally in Durban, Moodley was arrested under the Terrorism Act and sentenced to six years on Robben Island.
Moodley was in the same cell block as Nelson Mandela and it was only a matter of time before the two stalwarts developed a friendship.
Camara recalls her father telling his children about life on the island and how he was popularly known as “Connection”.
“Dad used to tell us about playing chess with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and that he beat him. It was fascinating and amazing to us to hear this.
“Mandela was like this great human being to us, but here is our dad, who beat this iconic man at chess.”
On his release from prison in 1981, Moodley was nominated as the publicity secretary for the Azanian People’s Organisation.
Shortly after being released from Robben Island, Moodley took a job as a freelancer on the Graphic, a Durban weekly newspaper and was later appointed editor but quit his job for political reasons. After joining the Natal Witness in Pietermaritzburg, Moodley was given the task of covering Mandela’s release from prison.
When asked about the impact her father made on her life, Camara said: “My father always wanted me to be the best that I can be, to think with an open and critical mind, to not just accept what is handed to me and to stand up for what I believe in.”
Camara began to explain how her father taught his children resilience and independence, similarly to how he guided students in earlier years.
She mentioned that her father had spent a lot of time away from home, as he frequently travelled overseas to get support and promote AZAPO.
However, when she dwells upon her memory of him, she recalls him waking up promptly on Sunday mornings and hearing his footsteps trotting down the passage.
“He would prepare breakfast for us, read the newspapers or put on music. He would listen to his favourite African musicians. It was like a Sunday ritual at home.”
Camara’s mother, Asha, is an activist and feminist.
Asha is on the editorial board of Agenda, a feminist journal.
Camara began to recollect on times when her parents would take her and sister Tamzyn to various political meetings in Derby Street.
She confessed that the siblings were young and would play games while these meetings were taking place.
Camara added: “I remember if we became loud, everyone would turn to look at my sister and I. We were oblivious to what was going on. But at the end of the meeting, we would always excitedly join them and scream out ‘Amandla!’ ”
Her father had become involved with Umtapo Centre, which is a non-profit development organisation that educates and empowers people through teaching them life skills.
She said with great pride: “My father coined its slogan ‘Free the Mind, Free the Land.’ Dad was involved in peace programmes, which were aimed at building self-reliance among students in the community. These programmes still continue today and this is the legacy my father left.”
Taking into consideration that both her parents were activists who fought for democracy and strived for a better nation, Camara said that South Africa was going through a transitional period and that things would change in our country when provided with the correct political will and leadership.
When asked if she had any advice for our political leadership, Moodley said: “I would say to them that they need to put the needs of the people first, before their own. They need to be open, transparent and honest with the people of this country. They also need to start taking responsibility for their actions and owning up to their wrong-doings.”
Camara is a woman well equipped with self-determination and proficiency. However, she feels that politics is not her calling, but has vast admiration for the individuals working at grassroots level to help people in the communities.