Obituary: Raj Paparam, NIC stalwart, UDF activist and ANC member

2008-10-14 00:00

A stalwart in the struggle for democracy in South Africa, Raj Paparam (71), died in Pietermaritzburg at the weekend after a long battle with diabetes. He was a member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), the United Democratic Front and the ANC.

Paying tribute to Paparam, Member of Parliament Yunus Carrim said he first got to know him shortly after the NIC’s revival in 1971.

“I knew him then more as the person who ran the shop opposite our flat. It was in the mid-eighties with the growing strength of the NIC and UDF that I got to know him more in a political sense.

“I spent two weeks with him in the same prison cell during the 1986 emergency. I was struck by how easygoing and congenial he was, and how well he took his detention despite his health challenges.

“He was just a very nice man.

“His politics seemed to flow from his values and from a certain philosophical reflection rather than from a more conventional political commitment,” said Carrim.

Paparam was part of an NIC delegation that met the ANC in Lusaka in 1989. Senior ANC members — including regional chairman Edward Dladla, vice-chairman Bheki Nzimande and member of the provincial executive committee Sizani Dlamini — were among the dignitaries who attended his funeral on Monday.

uMgungundlovu Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee told the family that Paparam was among the last of his generation who worked closely with leading local struggle stalwarts like the late Harry Gwala, Dr Chota Motala, A.S. Chetty, Reggie Hadebe and Skumbuzo Ngwenya.

He said Paparam vehemently opposed being co-opted into the Nationalist Party’s tricameral parliamentary system, which sought to give limited benefits to coloureds and Indians to the exclusion of Africans.

“He stood at the forefront of many anti-apartheid campaigns and I can still picture him with his wife Lily alongside going door to door, raising support and educating families on the issues that were being raised,” Bhamjee said.

He added that Paparam gave a lot of his time to raise funds for the support of detainees and their families.

The chairman of the Mountain Rise Community Policing Forum, Pete Jugmohan, in his eulogy at the funeral, described Paparam as his mentor who lived his life by example and preferred to work in the background.

“He was a footsoldier who preferred to make things happen,” Jugmohan said.

Paparam was born and grew up in Mid-Illovo. He moved to Pietermaritzburg and his first job was in the city engineer’s department in the municipality. He moved to other jobs, but his role as an activist caused problems, so he decided to become self-employed and ran a shop.

He was also a member of the Pietermaritzburg Child and Welfare Society, the Arya Samaj and Lions International.

Paparam leaves his wife Lily, three children and six grandchildren.

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