Phyllis Naidoo remembered for her fighting spirit

2013-02-15 00:00

THE legendary tenacity of struggle icon Phyllis Naidoo, who died in a Durban hospital on Wednesday night, stayed with her right to the end.

Naidoo was cremated in Durban at Clare Estate crematorium in a private ceremony attended by close family yesterday. She was 85.

Her daughter, Sukhthi, said her mother had heart surgery on January 11, from which she never recovered.

“She had been on life support ever since.”

Naidoo died at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital at 10.35 pm.

A prolific writer, she earned the wrath of apartheid’s rulers for her selfless role in fighting the racist establishment. Naidoo endured exile, banning orders, regular raids on her home and the detention of her husband, M.D. Naidoo, on Robben Island.

She also helped to spirit wanted members of the ANC out of the country, including President Jacob Zuma.

Her life was blighted by tragedy, including the death of her husband and two sons, Sadhan and Sha.

She is survived by her daughter and grandsons Buck and Louis.

Sukhthi, who lives in Cape Town, said the last two days had been a “rollercoaster”.

Despite Naidoo’s advanced age, she lived alone in Durban. “She was a very independent woman,” said Sukhthi.

Naidoo’s contribution to the struggle was lauded in a number of touching tributes yesterday, with movie maker Anant Singh singling Naidoo out for the refuge she provided to her comrades.

“Despite bannings, house arrests and a multitude of restrictions placed on her by the apartheid regime, she fought the system resolutely.

“Phyllis was the person that activists turned to in their times of need, finding refuge and safety in her care,” said Singh. He called her “a mother of our liberation”.

Naidoo was born in Estcourt on January 5, 1928, and retained firm links to the province during her life, having attended Woodlands High School in Pietermaritzburg and university in Durban.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), which Naidoo attended in its previous form as Natal University, hailed her as a “luminary … most noted for her no-nonsense approach to life, a tenacious fighting spirit and her immense sense of justice and compassion for the poor and destitute”.

UKZN vice-chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba said she made a significant contribution to South Africa’s literature and politics.

That contribution was recognised by her country 10 years ago when she received the Order of Luthuli from former president Thabo Mbeki.

“She will be sorely missed,” said Makgoba.

Cosatu KZN was profuse in its praise and said Naidoo had no interest in the material spoils of democracy. “She was a true combatant who hated privileges accrued in the name of revolution; hence she never wanted any VIP status and even refused to be in Parliament.”

The ANC said it was “saddened” by Naidoo’s death.

In his state of the nation address last night, Zuma paid tribute to Naidoo and to Amina Cachalia, who died recently.

A memorial service for Naidoo will be held at St Aidan’s Church in Centenary Road, Durban, at 3 pm on Saturday.

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