Thambi Naidoo and his Family: Struggle for a Non-Racial Democracy is a poignant and well-documented account of a family, through four generations spanning over 100 years, who have committed themselves to the fight for freedom in South Africa and who continue to be the foot soldiers of our constitutional democracy.
The individual stories of each of the ‘Congress Naidoos’ is contextualised alongside a historical timeline detailing Indian indenture and migration, the various Satyagraha campaigns, as well as the eventual collaboration and culmination of different political groupings dedicated towards challenging the Apartheid regime. In this regard, the book offers both an insight into a legendary and inspirational family, as well as a detailed political record that is of benefit to current and future generations.
Books that document the lives of struggle stalwarts are important for the preservation of memory. They serve as a time capsule that we can return to and get lost in – where we can marvel at the triumph and generosity of spirit, as well as draw inspiration and hope from generations who have dedicated their lives towards the fight for freedom. Our individual development as activists is strongly rooted in the collective struggles of those who came before us. Thus, the story of Thambi Naidoo and his family, is one that has not only has provided me with a sense of pride from an identity perspective, but also meaningful lessons that I will take with me in my own journey in advancing human rights and fighting for social justice.
I was particularly moved by each individual contribution by members of the Naidoo family, which ranged from being detained on numerous accounts and serving harsh jail sentences, to acts of generosity by Mrs Pillay who served coffee and prepared food for the Treason and Rivonia trialists. This demonstrated that each act, regardless of how big or small, was in service of the oppressed masses, and to advance the cause for freedom.
As a young woman, I appreciated that the stories of Veeramal, Ama, Shanthi and Ramnie have been told in a manner that highlights their individual power, activism and contribution. Often the role of women in the struggle for justice is overshadowed by their partners or male counterparts. The contributions of women are often deemed as ‘secondary’ and supportive, and they are not recognised for the direct role that they play. By telling more stories that recognise the leading role that female activists have played, and continue to play, in the fight for freedom, we will be inspiring generations to come who will be able to positively identify themselves in these heroines.
Despite not being a direct descendant of the “Congress Naidoos”, their legacy continues into the fifth generation. We draw inspiration and guidance from their bravery and courage, as well as their selfless dedication to human rights and freedom. As we face threats to our democracy, and are called on to defend it; we remember the sacrifices of the many struggle families and political activists, as well as reaffirm our commitment towards non-racism and non-sexism.
Finally, in conclusion, I would like to congratulate the author, Ismal Vadi, for a beautiful and thoughtful book. I was grateful to travel back in time to learn about the history of my ancestry, understand the complexity of identity politics, and most importantly, learn and draw inspiration to influence my own commitment to achieving social justice in my lifetime.