Another son lost to the struggle

2013-02-22 00:00

WITH reference to the article published about my mother, Phyllis Naidoo, in The Witness on February 14, please allow me to set the record straight.

When my mother talked of the sons she lost, she talked only of Sahdhan and Sharadh. In fact, there was Nersen too. My mother married Willie Joseph as a young woman and they had a son, Nersen. The marriage did not last long and Willie left for the United States. Nersen was just a few years younger than my mother’s youngest brother Ben and spent much time at my grandparents’ home in Verulam. When he was 10, he went to visit his father in the U.S. and never returned.

In the mid-seventies, when he would have been in his 20s, he started telephoning my mother in Durban. They would have long conversations, which I remember she was so happy about.

After we were in Lesotho for some time, Nersen wrote a letter to her, which he posted in the mail. I mention this because at the time, every item that came to Lesotho was scrutinised by the South African security agents.

In this letter, he told her that he wanted to join Umkhonto we Sizwe and wanted her to facilitate such a move. I can remember a meeting being called. I don’t remember exactly who was there, but definitely Chris Hani was. There was a big debate and it was decided that Nersen probably was a CIA plant and my mother should break all contact with him.

I am sure to your ears this sounds paranoid and frankly ridiculous. But at that time it was not. I can only imagine how devastated he must have been. It has always been clear to me that all he was reaching out for was his mother, and he thought that couching that approach in noble political terms would probably appeal more to her.

For reasons which I will never understand, he then set off for west Africa, where he joined Charles Taylor’s rag-tag army and perished there in the mid-eighties, buried in a pauper’s grave.

Even though she rarely spoke about Nersen, I can promise you that he was very much on her mind.

Out of the blue, she once said to me that she sometimes thinks that Nersen will just turn up at the front door. What will he look like now?

My poor mother was punished by so much loss. But my brother Nersen deserves his place in our family, as the eldest son of Phyllis Naidoo.

Far away, but never forgotten.

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