Dr Vallabh Jaga, an activist of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), sadly passed away on 31 August 2020 at the age of 94. He became blind in 1985 at a heightened period of the political struggle.
He was born on 23 September 1925 in Gujarat (India). After losing his mother at the tender age of seven, he migrated to South Africa, where he was to live with his father, Jaga Bawa, in Bloemhof in the erstwhile Western Transvaal. Dr Jaga’s father had a small café in Bloemhof named, “Jaga Bawa”, and the young Jaga worked in his dad’s shop. The shop is still standing today under a different owner but the same name. In Bloemhof Dr Jaga befriended the Congress-aligned Moolla family, notably the brothers Moosa “Mosie” and Ebrahim Moolla.
Vallabh Jaga would often talk about his early days in Bloemhof reminding youth that although the Afrikaner community was generally friendly when visiting their shop, they never challenged the racist policies of the apartheid government. For instance, there was only one cinema in Bloemhof, and Blacks had to sit in the back rows. Afrikaners would always tell the non-Whites, “Julle moet agter sit”, not realizing that those were the best seats in the cinema.
Dr Jaga completed his secondary education in Durban and matriculated at Sastri College. He completed his BSc degree at Fort Hare University and later his medical degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. His medical internship was completed at Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg.
Dr Jaga married Jesmine Waghmarae (deceased on 21 May 2019) of Durban in February 1956. Vallabh and Jesmine settled in Nigel in 1956, where Dr Vallabh established his medical practice initially in Heidelberg, and later in Nigel. They had four children – Anil, whom they tragically lost soon after birth, Kashvina, Kushik and Nershada. TIC and UDF activist, Hemant Waghmarae, who passed away this year on 5 April 2020, was the first cousin of Jesmine, and lived with the Jaga family since 1962. He was regarded as the eldest son of the family.
Dr Jaga was a dedicated Congress activist and a dignified intellectual. He read widely covering history, politics, literature, art and music. He was soft spoken, caring, gentle and kind-hearted. He valued education and respected literature. Dr Jaga was strongly influenced by Gandhian philosophy. He recalled as a child being carried by a family figure during the historic Salt March at Dandi, Gujarat (India). His vast reading of Karl Marx had a major influence on his ideological development and thinking, leaving him inclined to socialistic values, democracy and freedom. He would not tolerate discrimination and racism of any kind.
He became politically active at Wits University in the early 1950s, when he lived with Indian Congress activists, Drs Abdullhaq Patel and Zainab Asvat in Fordsburg. Among his contemporaries at university were Dr Essop Jassat, Ismail Meer and Justice Ismail Mahomed. As a student he participated in and was arrested during the Defiance Campaign of 1952, along with leading Congress figures such as Nelson Mandela, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Yusuf Cacahalia, Ahmed Kathrada, “Mosie” Moolla, Amin Cajee and Amina Asvat (Cachalia). He was an active member of Transvaal Indian Youth Congress.
He was a regular visitor to Flat 13 in Kholvad House in Johannesburg that belonged to Ahmed Kathrada. Here he was to meet and befriend leading personalities of the Congress movement such as Nelson Mandela, Harrison Motlana, Ameen Cajee, Billy Nair, Ismail Cachalia, Yusuf and Amina Cachalia, Zainab Asvat, Dr. Amratlal Solanki, Magan Mitha (his brother-in-law and younger brother of Nana Sita), Dr. Essop Jassat. He also knew Dr Bulbulia of Springs, the legendary Naidoos, Prema, Ramnie, Indres and Shanthie, “Isu” Chiba, Ismail and Fatima Meer, Farouk Meer, Paul and Adelaide Joseph, Issy Dinat, Sophie De Bruyn, Judge Zac Yacoob and the celebrated legal icon, Hassan Mal. He also personally knew the late Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Rusty Bernstein, Dennis Goldberg and Helen Joseph.
When the TIC was revived in 1983, Dr Jaga was among the first members to join the party, organising political meetings on the East Rand against the racist South African Indian Council and the Tricameral parliamentary elections. When Ahmed Kathrada was released from prison in 1989, Dr Jaga and his son, Kushik were among the first to meet him in Lenasia. His famous words on the day were, “It is a disappointment that Kathy has to return to Lenasia under the Group Areas Act after all these years.”
Dr Jaga, often called “The Peoples’ Doctor” or “Not Doctor Money” was a humanitarian at heart. He was known for attending to sick and needy patients at no cost. Some patients who were extremely ill, had to be examined by him in their cars, and in early days on horse and cart. He provided financial assistance to many families in need for basic living, education and other requirements without hesitation. For over 45 years until his demise, he provided financial support to his relatives in India.
Dr Jaga, Jesmine and Hemant Waghmarae will be sorely missed. Hamba kahle esteemed members of the Jaga family.