Life of a ‘public worker’

2008-05-09 00:00

Mention “community work” or “charity organisations” in Pietermaritzburg and many people think immediately of well-known city resident, Alderman Lutchmanan “LS” Moodley. When he withdrew from public life in 1998 because of poor health, Moodley had given 60 years of service to the community. He will be 88 in October.

In recognition of his community work, he was, in 1991, the first Indian in the country to be made an Alderman by a city council. In 1988, he received civic honours when Pietermaritzburg celebrated its 150th anniversary. In 1987, he received the Indian Academy of South Africa’s prestigious Nadaraja Award for service to mankind.

Now very frail, Moodley said he wants to be remembered for his contribution to the community as “a public worker”. He feels that his greatest achievement was inviting Sir Edmund Hillary to meet the Pietermaritzburg Indian community in 1961. Hillary was in the city as a guest of the then Natal University and Moodley sought the help of the vice-chancellor, Dr E. G. Malherbe, to organise the meeting. Moodley said he derived his greatest joy from working on the city council, on which he served for 25 years.

When he turned 75 in 1995, The Witness recorded that he still attended about four meetings a day and felt “too full of energy and life” to retire. A profile published by the Graphic in 1980 when he was 60 records that “He is involved in every sphere of public activity and there is no weekend in the year that finds him not attending meetings of a sporting, religious, civic or welfare organisation. For over four decades he has given hours of relentless and selfless service to his people.”

Moodley was married in 1944 to Runganaigum Moodley of Durban. They had five sons and two daughters, but lost two sons under tragic circumstances. Runganaigum died in 1982. Moodley was then married to Daya from 1984 to 1998. His family supported his community involvement and Runganaigum reportedly said he was “not meant for his family, but for the public”. Moodley said of his family, “I owe everything that I’ve achieved in life to my good family. My wife and children have always been very thoughtful and encouraging. They have stood by my side through the many years of my life that I spent working outside the home. I am very thankful to them.” Moodley denied that his community involvement had taken him away from his family and said that he was “associated with the family all the time”.

Born in 1920 in the Mattison’s Farm district to a farming family, Moodley was the oldest of nine children. He attended the Wesleyan Mission School until Standard 3 and completed Standard 6 at the York Road School, now Woodlands High School. He went to work immediately to supplement the family income, starting as a barman at the Royal Bar. He served as a wine steward at the Country Club and as a receiving clerk for a market agent. In 1943, he joined printers L. Backhouse as a machinist in the print shop. He became a sales representative in 1977 and eventually retired in 1985 after 42 years of unbroken service.

Moodley first entered public life in 1940 at the age of 20 when he joined the Maritzburg Indian Technical Students Society and was elected secretary, a position he held for more than 40 years. He entered local politics in 1971 when he was elected to the Indian Local Affairs Committee (Ilac). He also stood as a Solidarity Party candidate for the House of Delegates in the Tricameral Parliament but was not elected. In some quarters of the Indian community he was reportedly regarded as a “sell-out” because of this involvement in apartheid politics.

Aroo Naidoo, director of the Community Chest said: “I was very impressed by his commitment to the community and worked closely with him in the Mental Health Society and the H. S. Ebrahim Training Centre for intellectually impaired children. He was very active in the area of mental health.”

The religious organisations he served include the Pietermaritzburg Thirukootam, which promotes cultural and religious activity in the Hindu community, the Hindu Young Men’s Association and the Marriaman Temple. He is a life member of both the Marriaman and Siva Soobramoniar Temples and honorary life vice-president of the Midlands Hindu Society.

Described as “deeply religious”, and a practising Hindu, Moodley ascribed his active community service to his faith. “Service to mankind is important. The fear of God is good, but there is no point in fearing too much and losing sight of the commitments we have to our fellow human beings. We can see our fellow human beings and we live among them. We know their problems and must therefore strive to assist them in whatever manner possible. It is very easy to achieve goodness and joy from doing so. Service to others is the greatest contribution man can hope to make in life.”

Moodley also made a great contribution to sporting bodies and was himself a keen cricketer and soccer player.

LS Moodley served:

• Pietermaritzburg Indian Poor Relief Society (Secretary, 1943 to 1951);

• Pietermaritzburg Indian Child Welfare Society (1950 to 1979);

• Pietermaritzburg Indian Mental Health Auxiliary Committee, which built the first mental health clinic for Indians in the country;

• Pietermaritzburg Indian Ratepayers and Residents Association;

• Pietermaritzburg Indian Local Affairs Committee;

• Nicro (National Institute for Crime Prevention

and Reintegration of Offenders);

• Natal Indian Blind and Deaf Society;

• Pietermaritzburg Indian Funeral Society;

• Woodlands Indian High School Education Society;

• Aryan Benevolent Home;

• Sunlit Gardens Home for children

• Pietermaritzburg Association for the Aged;

• Northdale Hospital; and

• Townhill Hospital

Committee.

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