Billy Nair, stalwart of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, died on October 23, 2008. As a communist, he led from the front in the struggle of the working class against imperialism and racist domination.
Pragoti brings together an obituary and the statements of SACP, COSATU and ANC - the three organisations that shaped Billy Nair and to which he dedicated his life.
Nair a selfless, humble leader
Like many young people of his time, the harshness and nakedness of racial discrimination in the 1940s spurred Billy Nair to become politically active.
But unlike most, Nair made it his life's purpose to fight against racism, sacrificing a normal life to do so, and spending 20 years on Robben Island.
Right until he recently fell ill, Nair remained a champion of non-racialism and workers' rights who had fought tirelessly against apartheid and labour laws characterised by job reservations and unfair labour practices.
He had dedicated his life to mobilising people of all races to fight against such laws inflicted on poor workers in the mines, on farms and in all workplaces.
One of the five children of Pravathy and Kristen Nair - an engineer's assistant in a cargo vessel that transported sugar - Nair was born in Sydenham on November 27 1929.
He was politically active from his school days at the Durban Technical College from where he matriculated in 1949.
His political awareness was shaped by the intense debates in his college students' union and by the impact of the passive resistance campaign held from 1946-48 against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representative Acts.
As a young man, he attended all the mass rallies held by the Natal Indian Congress in Durban and watched groups of passive resisters march along West Street into Gale Street, where they squatted in the open veld.
In 1949 Nair joined the NIC. He became its secretary in 1950 and served as a member of its executive in the 1952 Defiance Campaign called by the Congress Movement.
He was part of the first group of resisters - led by Monty Naicker - who occupied the "Europeans only" waiting room at the Berea Station. Nair and 21 others were arrested at the time and he was found guilty and sentenced to a month's imprisonment.
Later, he worked for six months at a dairy, becoming full-time secretary of the Dairy Workers' Union before being fired for his union activities.
Nair was part of the 3 000-strong Congress of the People in Kliptown, where the Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955.
Between 1956 and 1960, Nair was among 156 Congress activists accused of treason, and he spent most of his time in Johannesburg and Pretoria during the lengthy treason trial.
He went underground during the state of emergency in 1960 before being arrested and detained for three months at Durban Central Prison. He was issued with a two-year banning order, which was reissued in 1961 for a further five years.
Active in the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, from its inception in December 1961, Nair was among the first first few who volunteered to take up arms against apartheid.
"We launched uMkhonto throughout South Africa. We then hit at the coloured affairs department, Indian affairs department and the Bantu affairs department. These were the three different components dividing the people, and we bombed all those three departments, three buildings that night," he said in an interview after his release from prison.
He was again detained on July 6 1963 and, after spending 100 days in detention, charged with sabotage together with 18 others. He received a 20-year sentence, which he served on Robben Island.
While in prison, Nair completed a BA and BComm, and most of a BProc degree through the University of South Africa. He was released on February 27 1984 and continued with his activism, becoming involved in the United Democratic Front and the anti-election campaign of 1984.
Before the elections for the House of Representatives and the House of Delegates, Nair was again arrested and held in Pietermartizburg. On his release, Nair went into hiding and then, in an incident that grabbed international headlines, Nair and five others - Archie Gumede, Mewa Ramgobin, Paul David, George Sewpershad and M J Naidoo - occupied the British Consulate's offices in Durban.
All those who staged the protest, except Nair, were charged with high treason.
However, at the beginning of August 1985, Nair was detained at the Brighton Beach police station and released on October 9 1985.
After the unbanning of the ANC, Nair's membership of the SACP become public and he played a major role in the restructuring in South Africa.
But in July 1990, police accused Nair and nine others of plotting Operation Vula, to seize power in the event of negotiations with the government breaking down. Nair, who was still in detention at the time, had a heart attack and had to undergo a double bypass operation. While he was recuperating, Nair was charged with nine others in the "Operation Vula trial".
He was a member of the interim leadership group of the ANC in 1990 and was elected to the national executive committee in 1991.
After the first democratic elections, Nair was elected a member of the National Assembly in Cape Town, being 39th on the ANC list of 400 nominees.
KwaZulu-Natal premier S'bu Ndebele, who spent time with him at Robben Island and later worked with him after his release, on Thursday described Nair as a "veteran of our struggle of liberation, and an outstanding leader of the ANC and SACP".
"Billy Nair was a leading member of the ANC from the time of Inkosi Albert Luthuli, and led the ANC underground from the time of his release from prison. He was also active in Umkhonto we Sizwe, the United Democratic Front and the Natal Indian Congress," said Ndebele in his message of condolence to Nair's family.
Senzo Mchunu, the ANC's KwaZulu-Natal secretary, said: "The ANC and the country as a whole has lost a true hero, a son of the soil who dedicated his life to the freedom of our people.
"Up to the final day of his life Billy Nair remained a humble, selfless leader who at all times put the interest of the people above his own. Even in his latter days, while battling ill health, he participated and kept up to date with ANC activities.
"He was a jolly, outspoken veteran who enjoyed regaling his audience with stories of yesteryear."
Nair was admitted to the intensive care unit of St Augustine's Hospital last week suffering from a combination of cardiac problems and other complications.
He is survived by his wife, Elsie, one daughter, Saro, who lives abroad, two sisters and two brothers.
Courtesy: The Mercury, South Africa
SACP Statement On The Passing Away Of Comrade Billy Nair
27 October 2008
The SACP notes with sadness the passing away of our veteran, Comrade Billy Nair, and expresses its condolences to his family, friends and comrades.
Comrade Nair was a pioneering trade unionist and Communist, to whom the working class and poor of our country owe an enormous debt. Even after he served a 20-year sentence on Robben Island, he was relentlessly hounded by the security police, and also arrested after the unbanning of the movement in 1990 for his “Operation Vula” activities, but he never faltered. He was forever focused, resilient, brave. He was an inspiration to all of us.
He worked closely with other great leaders of the working class movement of our country such as Moses Mabhida, Steven Dlamini, Harry Gwala and others.
He was a recipient of the SACP’s “Moses Kotane Award” for his outstanding contribution to the SACP. He remained as an “ex officio veteran” of the Central Committee of the SACP, although his health precluded him from participating in recent years.
If we take pride in his activities as a communist and unionist, we know the whole movement values his contribution. He also served with distinction in the ANC, MK, UDF and Natal Indian Congress.
It is fitting that he is to be given an official provincial government funeral on Thursday.
The General Secretary of the SACP, Comrade Blade Nzimande will lead our delegation to the funeral.
Hamba Kahle, Cde Billy!
Statement from COSATU
Billy Nair, 1929-2008
The Congress of South African Trade Unions mourns the sad passing of Comrade Billy Nair. We dip our banners in honour of a relentless fighter for workers, his country and the national democratic revolution. We send our condolences to his family, friends and countless comrades.
He was a founder member of both Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) and devoted his entire life to the struggle, from his teens when he was drawn into the 1946-48 passive resistance campaign against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representative Act.
In 1950 he began his union activities, when he was dismissed from his job in a dairy after only six months for organising the workers. The next year he became full time secretary of the Dairy Worker's Union and in 1955 joined SACTU, where he served on its first executive committee and was secretary of its Natal regional committee.
The same year Comrade Nair addressed the Congress of the People in Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted and in 1956 was one the 156 Congress activists charged with treason. Bail restrictions stopped him from participating openly in trade union work, but like all SACTU members he defied these conditions.
As a member of MK from its inception, he participated in acts of sabotage of railways, electric pylons and institutions linked to apartheid, like the offices of the Indian Affairs Department, the Coloured Affairs Department and the Bantu Administration. As a result Comrade Nair was detained on 6 July 1963, and after 100 days in detention, charged with sabotage and sentenced to 20 years on Robben Island.
After being freed in 1984 he became active in the United Democratic Front, participated in the anti-election campaign of 1984 and was detained several more times, until his wife brought a supreme court application restraining the police from assaulting him which resulted in two policemen being found guilty and fined. As late as July 1990 he was again arrested under the Internal Security Act, following police allegations of an ANC/SACP/MK plot to seize power in the event of negotiations breaking down.
When the SACP was relaunched as a legal body on 29 July 1990, he was elected as a central committee member after being on the party's interim leadership group.
He was a member of the interim leadership group of ANC 1990 and elected to its National Executive Committee in 1991. Then in 1994 Comrade Nair was elected a member of the National Assembly, as the 39th on the African National Congress list of 400 Nominees.
Billy Nair was a true servant of the movement. He put his freedom and his life on the line time after time, without any thought for the risk to himself. The struggle was his life and he never abandoned it. We will never forget our debt to him. Hamba Kahle, Comrade Billy Nair!
ANC mourns the death of Comrade Billy Nair
23 October 2008
The African National Congress (ANC) is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Comrade Billy Nair, a stalwart and an underground leader of the movement.
We pay homage to this gallant revolutionary who was unwavering in his commitment and dedication to the struggle for a democratic and just South Africa. Comrade Nair was a founding member of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and member of the Umkonto we Sizwe. He was also imprisoned in Robben Island together with Comrade Ahmed Kathrada.
The Deputy President of the ANC and President of SA, Kgalema Motlanthe, specifically mourns the lost of his long time friend and comrade, who he knew over time.
Comrade Nair was a tireless and principled political activist, who remained engaged in the struggle until the end of his life.
The ANC will forever treasure the contribution made by Comrade Billy Nair in the struggle for liberation and the building of our democracy.
The ANC extends its condolences to his family, friends and comrades.
May his soul rest in peace.
Courtesy: ANC, COSATU, SACP