By David Wiley and Christine Root
The world is a poorer place with the loss in February of Phyllis Naidoo, a defender of humanity, a protector of people in the midst of apartheid oppression, and a loving and responsive humanist in a society of growing materialism and bourgeois consumption of the global West.
Phyllis lived a lifelong struggle against the apartheid system as a member of the African National Congress (ANC), the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK, Spear of the Nation) ANC underground, and the South African Communist Party. She was a prominent target of the apartheid regime that wanted to assassinate her for her passionate work. Phyllis harbored escapees from the regime and helped them escape to Swaziland. She was banned and therefore without a job while her husband was in Robben Island prison. When the regime broke one of her cell members, she fled into exile to Lesotho where she cared for refugees and children and where she was riddled with shrapnel from an apartheid parcel bomb. She then escaped to Zimbabwe, took care of hundreds of movement members in her home, and then learned that an apartheid agent in Zambia had assassinated her son.
Phyllis went to great effort to find employment for ex-Robben Island prisoners, even employing five of them as messengers at her law office—including Jacob Zuma, the current South African president. Throughout the struggle, she fought fiercely and paid dearly for her commitment.
In recent years, Phyllis continued her care for persons by hosting many—rich and poor—and celebrating living and dead heroes of the liberation struggle in her books Footprints in Grey Street (2002), 156 Hands that built South Africa (2006), Footprints beyond Grey Street (2007), and Enduring Footprints (2009).
All the while, she lived in a small apartment on the exhaust-filled Umbilo Street in central Durban where she was a center for so many friends and for the needy of the neighborhood.
Phyllis Naidoo was a great defender of liberty, a guardian of the soldiers of the resistance, a hero for so many, a political warrior, and, most of all, an immensely principled but compassionate human being. To the end, she knew the cause of justice and humanity for which she cared for so many people and for which she gave all of her life and treasure.
Hamba kahle (go well), Phyllis.
See a number of documents, photos, and a video interview with Phyllis Naidoo on www.overcomingapartheid.msu.edu – and read her history at: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/phyllis-naidoo