Phyllis David was born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, in Western South Africa. Growing up she was the oldest of ten children, she often heard stories from her grandparents who came to South Africa from India as indentured servants decades earlier. Her grandfather managed to pay off his freedom only a couple of years into his indenture, however had to wait a total of five years of work in order to buy the freedom of his wife and children born in during the period of indenture. Despite paying off the indenture her family remained in KwaZulu-Natal since Indians were bared from settling in other parts of South Africa while it was still under British rule, the segregation of Indian South Africans continued well after the British had gone. Phyllis recalled at a young age an instance where her grandfather scolded her for speaking English to him, she believed he thought this way as a result of the years of hard work and discrimination that he faced under British colonialism. Conversely her father, Simon David, a former teacher and inspector of schools openly encouraged her to learn English and pushed her to be on top of her studies even outside of school.
A Pivotal Moment (1938)
This was not only way in which education was always stressed in her family. Her father pushed her to open her mind and took her to a Race Relations conference. This exposed her to the racial climate and mistreatment of non-Whites in apartheid South Africa. She cites this as a life changing moment.
Politics over Prayer (1946)
As a TB nurse, Naidoo became frustrated. One man they worked hard to heal, died two weeks later. Additionally, Reverend Sykes and his wife, started FOSA, a relief program. Every morning, they had to go in a hut and pray. Naidoo questioned the effectiveness of prayer considering the fact that the patients were not getting better. This lead her to choose politics over prayer in the future.
In my opinion, an interview is personal and relatable. It makes the story a connection between two people. Rather than reading a textbook, for example, in which there is distance between the reader and events. Watching this interview, I felt emotion. I could hear and see it. This is something that has never occurred while reading a textbook. An interview is timeless.
Anonymous. “Indian South Africans.” South African History Online. SAHO, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.
Beginning of Political Activism
In the early 1950s. Naidoo was divorced from her first husband and was still working as a teacher and getting her Law Degree at the same time from Natal University. Although her political views started at a young age, her activism didn’t start until much later. During the 1950s and 1960s, Naidoo was involved in raising money for the Treason Trials for political defendants which included people like Nelson Mandela. She worked closely with the ANC and the Natal Indian Congress which is where she met her second husband, M.D. Naidoo. She joined the communist party in 1961 and a lot of her work was focused on helping other communists escape the county (Overcoming Apartheid, Michigan State University).
In 1966, Naidoo was banned because of her political work. The chief magistrate in Durban told her to not get involved in political work because it will only cause more problems for her such as losing her job as a teacher. Naidoo ended up leaving her job as a teacher anyway. Naidoo was banned for 10 years and for the last 5 years of her banning she was under house arrest. When Naidoo’s brother wrote to the government about her sister’s banning and under what grounds she was being banned, the government responded that it was for “security reasons” (25:00, Overcoming Apartheid, Naidoo Interview).
Naidoo was unable to make much money during this time and to make matters even more difficult, M.D. Naidoo was being imprisoned at Robben Island under the Suppression of Communism Act. This allowed the government to imprison and ban anyone that was a threat to the union because of communist affiliation. MD was in the same cell black as Nelson Mandela (Mandela Foundation). As a result, Naidoo was stuck in a small flat in Durban with her three small children attempting to continue her work as a communist under ground. During this time Naidoo continued to get her law degree at Natal University. Her banning did not allow her to be on any school property whether it was for herself at a university or for her children in grade school, she was banned from all school grounds. Natal university would meet her off of school grounds so Naidoo could continue her education in law (34:00, Overcoming apartheid, Phyllis Naidoo Interview).
Lift of the Ban
In 1972, M.D. was released from Robben Island and in the same year, Phyllis and M.D. were divorced. Phyllis was granted custody of their daughter Sukthei and M.D. took the other two boys in exile to London. In 1973, Naidoo finished her law degree and became a qualified attorney. In 1976, the ban was lifted and she continued in her political work. She was able to help many others escape from the Apartheid regime in the 70s by setting up an escape route Swaziland. She started by defending many of her fellow comrades and eventually fled South Africa for Lesotho to continue her work. Two of her detainees that she was trying to help were picked up by the police. Naidoo was concerned that they would crack under torture, so she decided to run. She did not have a pass to leave South Africa at the time, so in her interview, she describes her experience leaving South Africa under cover. Her comrades arranged for an African woman to drive her to Lesotho. However, when Phyllis got in the car, she was asked to drive. As Phyllis was driving, she went down a narrow road and lost control of the car and drove into a body of water. At this piont, Phyllis crossed the river into Lesotho. In 1979, a parcel bomb was sent to Naidoo and five others which created problems in her hearing and other major injuries. As a result, she was taken to Hungary to under go medical treatment (40:00, Overcoming Apartheid, Naidoo Interview).
Loss and Continued Service
After Naidoo was treated in Hungary, the Apartheid South African government warned the Lesotho government that they would attempt to kill her and continue airstrikes in Lesotho if she did not leave. She fled the country and later arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe where she continued her political work. Naidoo also recalls in her interview the terrible bombing raid and massacre that occurred in Maseru, Lesotho (1:10:00, Overcoming Apartheid, Naidoo, Interview).
In the late 1980’s Phyllis’ eldest son was working at the ANC farm near the border in order to supply the MK camps in Zimbabwe. In 1989 Sadhan Naidoo, Phyllis’ oldest son, was assassinated by a South African government agent who had infiltrated the ANC and MK, his mission was to destabilize operations in South Africa that were supplying the MK in bordering countries. Phyllis later claimed that during the TRC she recovered ANC documents that deemed the infiltrator unfit for military training; regardless he was trained and armed in an Angola before returning to South Africa to carry out his mission.
Later during the Trial and Reconciliation hearings they gave reparations for the loss of her two sons, however Phyllis could not take it saying, “What is the price of their lives? They are priceless to me.” She received a pension which is what funded her further research and books into the 80s and 90s. Phyllis continued her political work into the end of the 1980s and began working on some of her most famous books such as “Waiting to Die in Pretoria” (1:20:00 Overcoming Apartheid, Naidoo Interview).
Oral Testimony deepens my understanding of South African History
Oral testimonies allow the historian to get a sense of what individuals were thinking and feeling during certain events in history. In the case of Phyllis Naidoo, we knew which events and groups she was apart of, we knew she was bombed, threatened, pushed and pulled in many different directions, but in her interview, we are able to get a sense of her mentality throughout the struggle and after the struggle. The most impressive thing that stands out to me is that although Naidoo had horrible tragedy and loss in her life while she was fighting the Apartheid regime, she is still able to have hope in her life and see the good that has come from her work. Throughout the video she is able to laugh and smile through some of the most difficult recollections of her story such as the parcel bombing and her journey from place to place as she tried to escape the Apartheid government.
“Condolences on the passing of Phyllis Naidoo.” – News – Nelson Mandela Foundation. February 14, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2017. https://www.nelsonmandela.org/news/entry/condolences-on-the-passing-of-phyllis-naidoo.
“Phyllis Naidoo our heroine.” Sunday Tribune [South Africa], 24 Feb. 2013, p. 2. Infotrac Newsstand, ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=STND&sw=w&u=msu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA348372177&it=r&asid=504588a1c42bc5cd481105396cabe4e0. Accessed 26 Apr. 2017.
“Phyllis Naidoo.” Independent [London, England], 24 Apr. 2013, p. 48. General OneFile, ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=msu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA327377802&it=r&asid=dc1463994c5d6cc0d48aaa93c7b6989a. Accessed 26 Apr. 2017.
“Phyllis Naidoo.” South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid. Accessed April 26, 2017. http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/people.php?id=65-251-DD.
“Suppression of Communism Act, No. 44 of 1950 approved in parliament.” Anonymous. March 16, 2011. Accessed April 26, 2017. http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/suppression-communism-act-no-44-1950-approved-parliament.
The Stamina still continues Post Apartheid
Post Apartheid Concerns & Attitudes
On April 27th, 1994, Apartheid came to an end.
April 27th, 1994 marked the humanization of all nonwhites in South Africa. It was the day that acknowledged the infinite massacres,unjust incarceration, decades of systematic oppression,hateful discrimination and the drowning bloodshed of thousands of non-white South Africans previously silenced by Apartheid. April 27th was the day South Africa’s heart learned to beat.
A beating heart however, requires the love and guidance of individuals who have captivated it, in order to sustain its pulse. The end of the regime left South Africans unstable, fearful and uncertain of their future, uncertain of the lifespan of this new heart; making it challenging to sustain this acquired pulse of justice.
Although a new constitution had replaced and repealed the heavy legislation to mark the end of the discrimination legalized by Apartheid,a new whirlpool of chaos sucked in not only the South African economy and general infrastructure, but shook the trust and faith of the South African people in regards to the new government, and their striving democracy. Despite this, Phyllis Naidoo, was one of few rare individuals who maintained optimism with striking resilience.
Democracy after Apartheid painted South Africa as a reincarnated land of freedom. The very obvious discrimination exemplified through the Pass Laws, and the physical signs “whites only”,“coloureds only” were abolished and removed from the surface, highlighting the country as a seemingly progressive place with considerable principle and democracy. This however, distracted from the rising levels of poverty that exasperated the population in 2006 (when interview was conducted.)
Naidoo addresses the issue of poverty specifically, by sharing a story of a starving, young child who continuously asks her for old bread from her last dinners. The compassion in Naidoo pours out as she describes how she sat the child down to feed them, and reflected upon the dramatic increase in overall homelessness and starvation.
Along with poverty, comes the issue of prioritization in budget spending. Naidoo exclaims that governmental spending on education has been cut overwhelmingly, and due to this, kids are not receiving the appropriate levels of schooling they deserve.
In addition to outbreaking poverty, Naidoo comments the trend of poverty is not unique solely to South Africa, as it can be summarized in the broader context of world globalization. “I think we got our freedom at the wrong time” Naidoo states. “Because of all that came loose in our country.” She further provides an example of a trade agreement made pertaining the cattle in South Africa. “There was some trade agreement that they’d fund Lesotho products coming to the U.S... the Taiwanese employed local Lesotho people, locked them up to twelve hours, opposed to the proper eight hours of employment legally allowed to work.” This exploitation of Lesotho people ultimately benefited the U.S in addition, as they received tremendous profit. South Africa’s textile industry was also exemplified, as it has been broadly exploited as well.
Despite the impacting traces of institutional discrimination that has followed into post apartheid, Phyllis remained optimistic and hopeful of South Africa’s future. She describes the overall progress she witnessed within the country by contrasting the changes pre and post apartheid. “I just [felt] saddened and shattered...that kids were not allowed to go to school together, such an ugly site eh?... Wonderful changes have been made now regarding South African childeren going to school. Now beautiful uniforms,carrying their bags to school.” Overall dynamics amongst South Africans have improved unimaginably, this is shown in another example she provides.“And now another thing you see with our labor practices, the men were husband compounds, they didn’t know their families. They didn’t know their children’s bloody names sometimes. They would just come home drunk, impregnate their wives and leave. The children would grow up without a father… It’s so beautiful to see fathers walking with their children now, some of them walking with their children on their chest now.”
Propaganda of Sha, Coma & Death
In April of 1994, Naidoo’s second son Sharadh, got into a serious accident while playing football, viciously injuring his knee. Briefly after the injury,he had undergone what is known as “minor exploratory” surgery. While intaking the anesthesia necessary to make the surgery possible, Sha had a severe allergic reaction to the drug and fell into a deep coma that would last for about another year. An attempted liver transplant was conducted during this time through his medical team, that allowed his life to extend another ten months and twenty three days. On March 20, 1995, Phyllis endures the pain of losing her second, and only remaining son, Sharadh Naidoo.
Like first son Sadhan, Sharadh was also heavily active in the political fight against Apartheid. Between the years 1984, and 1987, Sharadh had became the ANC’s students council representative. He had proven great skill in coordinating and organizing people and applied this to the ANC in immense effort. This effort proved to merge the Popular History Trust, and the South Africa History Archives which resulted in further progress. Sha was involved deeply in the ANC, “...at a branch level.” He eventually attended the Durban Conference in 1993, and was passionate recruiting attention to the upcoming election.
During the interview, Wiley compels Phyllis to reflect upon the overall loss of both of her sons. (1:30:20) Both sons Sadhan and Sharadh, submerged themselves within the opposition of Apartheid as soon as their early thirties. Their early initiations indeed profoundly impacted the South African people, and accelerated the progression of the struggle (especially in the context of South African youth), but is what also is to be blamed for their tragically, young deaths.The assassination of Sadhan, and the death of Sha produced Phyllis a lasting pain, detectable in the tone of her voice upon talking about them in the interview.
Referring to the con-sequencing losses and suffering she had endured, Wiley asks Phyllis: “So would you change the course of your life, and the early decisions you made [if you could.]” To which she in turn questions him, “No, I mean have you ever contributed to the struggle in America.””A little bit.”
“Well, my children gave their lives.”
Following Sha’s death, Naidoo reallocated her passions into correcting prison conditions, particularly annihilating the practice of capital punishment. She had done this through writing a multitude of accounts pertaining various prisoners she personally observed in her lifetime. Naidoo’s intimate relationship with law, and own prior experience of defense explains the root of this passion. This was something she felt responsible to fight for, in addition to the ultimate abolishment of Apartheid. Naidoo’s defense of highly targeted political leaders at the time of Apartheid is the backbone of the credibility in her writing. Defending activists such as Harry Gwala of SACP (tried for treason and sentenced to life in prison), and employing ex-Robben Island detainees such as Jacob Zuma (current president of South Africa) perfectly amplifies the level of expertise Naidoo had to offer as an author. In 1990, her first book “Waiting to Die in Pretoria” becomes published. This is not the end of her publishing journey, as she continues to expand on the notion of barbarism in capital punishment through her fourth publication, “Footprints in Grey Street.”Naidoo’s final publication was released in the year 2009, “Enduring Footprints.”
On February 13th, 2013 at Chief Albert Luthuli hospital, Phyllis Naidoo passed away at the age of 85 due to heart failure. She was nationally recognized by the South African government in 2003,and received the Silver award through the Order of Luthuli. In addition to this award, she received many others including an honorary doctorate from the University of Dubran-Westville. Her legacy survives through her only living daughter Sukhti Naidoo, a speechwriter and communicator for the South African parliament.
Other Accounts on Phyllis Naidoo
Oral testimony deepened my understanding in the context of this project because it contextualized and brought to life the real issues of people in history. By actually hearing the voice of Naidoo,and seeing a broad range of expressions played on her face through out the interview, I was able to comprehend her testimony more accurately.
History.com Staff. “Apartheid.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010.
Neocosmos, Michael. “Remembering Phyllis Naidoo.” Daily Maverick. N.p., 23 Feb. 2013.
Phyllis Naidoo.” Literary Tourism. N.p., n.d.
“Struggle Veteran Phyllis NaidoStruggle Veteran Phyllis Naidoo Dieso Dies.” Post-Apartheid South Africa And The Crisis Of Expectation – DPRN Four : Rozenberg Quarterly. N.p., 14 Feb. 2013.
“Zimbabwe: Two Days after the Referendum; and a Tribute to the Late Phyllis Naidoo with Special Reference to Her Time in Exile in Zimbabwe.” – 18th March 2013.” The Southern African Liaison Office. N.p., 18 Mar. 2013.
Mbuyazi, Nondumiso, Sihle Mlambo, and Sapa. “News.” Tributes for Struggle Stalwart Phyllis Naidoo | IOL. N.p., 15 Feb. 2013.
Women in the struggle: Bessie Head and Phyllis Naidoo
On the surface Bessie Head and Phyllis Naidoo had fairly similar life experiences in their upbringing which lead them to activism. While the two never met in person as women in the struggle they both found different ways to fight back against the injustice they faced not only as non-white South Africans but also as women. However it was the result of their actions which lead them each down separate paths. Unlike Phyllis Naidoo, Bessie Head was born to a white mother and black father, however her mother was sent to a mental institution when the family found out about the pregnancy and Bessie grew up in the foster care of a colored family. Her status as a colored woman afforded her little advantage when it came time to find work, and ultimately she ended up aligning herself with the Robert Sobukwe’s Pan-African Congress and their “Africa for the Africans” view. While Phyllis Naidoo persisted and manged to evade the South African authorities, Bessie Head was arrested by the South African government and nearly committed suicide before starting a new life in District Six and ultimately fleeing to Botswana. Afterwards Bessie decided to focus her fight differently choosing to write about the hardships of her life in exile in Botswana. Many of her books focused on her life in exile as well as the hardships faced by poverty stricken women in the recently independent nation of Botswana. Ultimately Phyllis Naidoo and Bessie Head were influential figures in their respective struggles, however in both cases they are not as widely celebrated as their male peers, an aspect that was very clearly reflected in the lack of historical documentation for figures that contributed so much to their respective nations.
Bessie Head’s Works
By 1979 Bessie Head was granted a Botswana passport which allowed her to travel outside of the country and allowed her to attend international conferences which improved her writing while giving exposure to the issues that she spent the majority of her adult life writing about. the majority of her books were aimed at addressing the struggles of women living in poverty across the villages of Botswana.
How Oral testimony deepened your understanding of specific aspects of South African history
I think that the oral testimony of Phyllis Naidoo helped me understand just how connected and complex the struggle was against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Actually hearing Mrs. Naidoo recall her personal experiences, her victories, and losses and how it affected her life during and after puts the greater emphasis on the sacrifice that she made in order to make sure that South Africans had a voice. I also thought it was interesting to see how spoke of the many hardships she faced and how she seemed to find positives from her sacrifices, including her pain in the grief of her sons in which she finds a small lining of pride that her sons died opposing apartheid.I also thought that Phyllis’ attitude towards some of the struggles she faced was interesting, she seemed to laugh when recounting some of her more difficult times like when she fled to Zimbabwe. When all is said and done I believe that actually listening to firsthand accounts of struggle gave me a much more comprehensive understanding than if I had just read all of Phyllis Naidoo’s exploits in a biography.
“Bessie Head Biography and works.” Bessie Head Heratige Trust. Accessed April 26, 2017. http://thuto.org/bhead/html/biography/biography.htm
“Phyllis Naidoo.” Independent [London, England], April 24, 2013, 48. General OneFile (accessed April 28, 2017). http://ezproxy.msu.edu.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=msu_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA327377802&asid=dc1463994c5d6cc0d48aaa93c7b6989a.
“Phyllis Naidoo.” South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid. Accessed April 26, 2017. http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/people.php?id=65-251-DD.
“Phyllis Naidoo Collection.”South African History Online. Accessed April 25, 2017. http://www.sahistory.org.za/collection/28091
Conducted research on Naidoo and related topics and completed the section about Naidoo’s life as a Political Activist after 1948. Grade: 4.0
Conducted research on Naidoo, specifically her early life (pre ‘48). Additionally, I completed the correlating section.
Grade I would give my group mates: 4.0
Conducted research on the life of Bessie head and her works and the as well as Phyllis Naidoo. Wrote the Bessie Head section and contributed to the post Apartheid section.
Grade I would give my group mates: 4.0Hiba
Conducted research on Naidoo’s continuation of achievements, and personal life events specifically in Post Apartheid South Africa.
Grade I would give my group mates: 4.0