Voice of resistance

2011-11-14 00:00

WITH the ANC dominant, the role and personalities involved in other liberation organisations have largely faded into the background. Kader Hassim, who died in Pietermaritzburg last Thursday, was one such voice of resistance. He was part of the Unity Movement in KwaZulu-Natal through his involvement in affiliate organisation, the African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa (Apdusa).

The Unity Movement formed in 1943 and was predominant in the Cape, later spreading to other parts of South Africa. Its underlying philosophy was based on Leon Trotsky’s teachings. It rejected cooperation with the government and sought full democratic rights for all South Africans.

Hassim, in an interview recorded by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Documentation Centre, said that he became political because his brother was political and his interest started with folding pamphlets, licking envelopes, putting stamps on them and posting letters.

Hassim was born and grew up in Dundee. His parents, Fathima and Ishaq Hassim, were born in India. His father came to South Africa in 1920 to seek his fortune and in 1932 he sent for his wife and four children. Four more children were born in South Africa, including Hassim.

After matriculating at Umzinto High School, Hassim came to live in Pietermaritzburg where he worked for a year in the leather industry and was active in the trade union movement. He recalled an issue of an incentive scheme taken up at the factory where workers were given more money if they produced more. The scheme soon saw younger workers outproducing the older workers, who, because of their failure to keep up, were soon dismissed for underproducing. The workers agitated against this, culminating in a massive leather workers’ strike in 1960.

Hassim went on to study law at the then Natal University. He always pointed out that at the time it was called the Natal University Non-European section (UNNE), and was a collection of buildings behind Sastri High School in Durban. He once described the common room for black students as flea-infested and said: “We had a library, which we used to call two-by-two, two inches by two inches.”

He became active in student politics and was part of a group called the Durban Students’ Union which held reading evenings, organised political debates and brought out a journal called The Student. The group organised a boycott of the university’s graduation ceremony which was segregated in those days, as well as a boycott of the golden jubilee of Natal University in 1960.

He returned to Pietermaritzburg where he opened his law firm, but was continuously placed under house arrest from 1964 onwards. This meant being confined to his flat from six in the evening until six in the morning. In addition, he could not leave his home over weekends and was not allowed visitors.

In February 1971, Hassim was arrested and detained until June 1971 when he along with 13 other members of the Unity Movement were charged under four counts of the Terrorism Act. The charges related to their assisting Unity Movement members who had re-entered the country from outside. His wife, Nina, a former Witness columnist, was also detained while he was in detention. Hassim in an interview with Voices of Resistance, an oral history project, spoke of the psychological cruelty of the Security Police in leaving his two young sons without their parents and him not knowing the whereabouts of his children and who was caring for them.

Hassim was sentenced to a total of 21 years, but effectively his sentences ran concurrently for eight years. He was sent off to Robben Island.

There has never been love lost bet­ween the Unity Movement and the ANC, and Hassim was critical of the ANC on the island for not respecting an undertaking that political parties would not recruit members from other organisations. In the Voices of Resistance interview, Hassim said his view of the ANC was not complimentary and he quoted Unity Movement founder I. B. Thabata’s reference to the ANC as the “zigzags of opportunism”.

He also told the interviewer that being in prison taught him never to be afraid of being imprisoned again and that during those years he learnt to play the classical guitar and to read music. “I learnt how to skip properly. You know like the boxers skip. Terror [Mosiuoa] Lekota taught me how to skip,” he said.

Hassim was released from prison only to be banned again. While he was incarcerated, the Natal Law Society struck him off the roll. He refused, in principle, to apply to be reinstated working as an ordinary legal clerk. In the end, city lawyers at a Law Society annual general meeting voted unanimously to apply for his reinstatement.

Hassim’s name lives on in the law firm that he founded, and he was always very complimentary of his partner Morgan Naidoo, whom he described as very fair and very loyal. His name lives on in the younger lawyers who looked up to him. Kalyani Pillay, special adviser to the National Director of Public Prosecutions, when profiled in a magazine, said Hassim was her role model. She said he taught her the nuts and bolts of being an attorney and the ethics of the law. His name also lives on with a younger generation with whom he shared his political views.

In the Voices of Resistance interview, Hassim was asked for his closing remarks. “I think the important thing is that one has got to record history as it happened,” he said. “Truth, more than anything else, must be paramount and we must be open about it. We must be candid and say what has to be said. Even though it may offend people, a section of people. But, these things, if they are to be recorded for posterity, they must be said as they happened.”

He also told the interviewer that being in prison taught him never to be afraid of being imprisoned again and that during those years he learnt to play the classical guitar and to read music. ‘I learnt how to skip properly. You know like the boxers skip. Terror [Mosiuoa] Lekota taught me how to skip,’ he said.

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