The ANC dips its flag in honour of Comrade Phyllis Naidoo who has passed on at the age of 85. She was a veteran of ANC, MK and SACP. Mam' Phyllis was born in Estcourt on the 5th of January 1928.
After she matriculated from Woodlands High School in Pietermaritzburg in 1945, the family moved to Tongaat. She then started to work at the Friends of the Sick Association (FOSA). She was sent to King George V Hospital to train as a TB nurse aid. As a young woman she was heavily drawn into community work and also the political activism of the period.
She was galvanised by the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1956 Treason Trial. When Mam' Phyllis read in the Natal Mercury a report of the arrests of Dorothy Shanley and Errol Shanley, members of the SACP, parents of three young children Nigel, Di and Roz, she decided she had to take an active role in solidarity and support.
As a teacher and a student at Natal University (Non-European section) she organised a Human Rights Committee at University and helped to raise funds for the Treason Trialists and their families. She was also involved in attending to the banished persons in Natal with Eleanor Kasrils, Theo Kloppenberg and others.
She joined the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) where she met Nandha (Steve) Naidoo, George Sewpersadh, Dr Randeree and MD Naidoo and became involved in writing speeches for comrades.
In 1958, she married MD Naidoo, a committed member of the SACP, and in 1961 she joined the Communist Party. She also began working with Dorothy Nyembe, Florence Mkhize and Moses Kotane. In 1958, she also began working with her husband, MD and Govan Mbeki in aiding people underground. They made deliveries and helped those in danger to get out of the country.
She herself took Moses Mabhida and two other comrades to Newcastle when they were making their way out of South Africa. Mam' Phyllis' association with political leaders brought her to the attention of the apartheid authorities and she was banned in March 1966.
In 1967, MD was charged and sent to prison on Robben Island. His detention together with her banning left her destitute. She could not work and had to depend on friends and family for welfare assistance.
Her banning orders were renewed with house arrest and she was banned until 1976. During the ten-year period of her banning, her home was raided fourteen times. When she was placed under house arrest, she began to study law. She qualified as a lawyer in 1973 but could not practice, as she was not allowed in court. Finally her banning order was lifted in 1976 and she set up her practice.
One of the people she defended was Harry Gwala of the Communist Party who was tried for treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. People who had been released from Robben Island gathered around Phyllis who tried to find employment for them. They couldn't find work because people were afraid to employ them.
At one stage, she had five ex-Robben Island detainees as messengers at her law firm. Among these was Jacob Zuma. The only option for these men was to flee the country. With the help of Joseph Nduli, she established a new escape route to Swaziland and Shadrack Maphumulo was able to take many out of the country safely.
On 23 July 1977, Phyllis escaped to Lesotho as her underground comrades were detained, along a new route established by Omar Badsha, Rick Turner and others. Here she joined the ANC in exile and was involved in welfare work: providing for children who had left South Africa, assisting members of the SACP and ANC to escape from South Africa and providing them with support in Lesotho. She was forced to leave Lesotho in 1983, when South African air strikes against Lesotho began and all its twelve borders were closed. She was then sent to Zimbabwe.
Despite more air strikes, she remained in Harare for seven years where she continued her political activities for MK, wrote speeches for comrades, taught at the Law Department of the University of Zimbabwe and helped people from South Africa find solutions to problems. She was actively involved in campaigning against the abuse of power by the apartheid government.
She was particularly concerned with the prisoners, both political and criminal, on death row. She wrote Waiting to Die in Pretoria, which decried the inhumanity of capital punishment. She also put out a publication Le Rona Re Batho: An Account of the 1982 Maseru Massacre.
In 1990, she returned to South Africa and immediately went to visit prisoners on death row and Robben Island.She continued to write and was engaged in recording the history of the struggle as she experienced it during her time in the country and in exile. Her latest publication is Footsteps Swansong.
Hamba Kahle Umkhonto.