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An exhibition comprising historic photographs and artefacts from the life of Thambi Naidoo, one of the most trusted lieutenants of Mahatma Gandhi during his stay in South Africa has been opened at the iconic Apartheid Museum here.
The Naidoo-Pillay exhibition at the museum was put together after two years of research by historians from the University of the Witwatersrand History project. The museum comprises of historic photographs, video recordings, documents and artefacts from the five descendants of Naidoo who had emigrated from Mauritius at the age of 14 in 1889.
Naidoo, who worked alongside Gandhi in fighting oppression through Satyagraha movement in South Africa, became a chief mobiliser of especially the Tamil community where he hailed from.
After being shipped off from India as slaves to the fertiliser fields of the British colony of Mauritius, Govindasamy Krishnasamy Naidoo – affectionately known as Thambi – and his family boarded a passenger boat to South Africa in the 1870s.
Naidoo’s wife, Parenithama Pillay, would also join the fight for freedom, organising a 300-strong march of Indian women, most of whom were ordinary homemakers, to resist the unjust laws being put in place against Indian South Africans.
From among his nine children, Thambi sent four sons with Gandhi when the latter returned to India in 1914, insisting that they are trained at an ashram in India to devote their lives for the good of people.
Naransamy (Roy), Pakirisamy (Pakiri), Barasarthi and Balakrishnan, were referred to by Gandhi as “my four pearls.”
After Pakiri’s death at the ashram in Ahmedabad, Barasathi and Balkrishnan returned to South Africa, while Roy stayed on to study under the poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan before returning home in 1928 to dedicate his life to the liberation struggle.
He was elected deputy president of the Transvaal Indian Congress and campaigned for a vote for Indians, the repeal of segregationist laws such as the Ghetto Act and the Pegging Act, and non-racial alliances.
Roy and Ama’s five children, Shanthie, Indres, Murthie, Ramnie and Prema, all joined the liberation movement, suffering persecution, detention, solitary confinement and torture.
All but the late Indres were present at the launch of the exhibition, which was attended by scores of veterans of the freedom struggle.
The family also befriended African National Congress leaders such as Nelson Mandela, with many political meetings taking place around the kitchen table of their home in downtown Johannesburg. One of the posters in the exhibition quotes Mandela recalling a meal he once had there.
“Ama, wearing that free and easy smile of hers, presented us with a meal of crab and rice. It was my first time to see these creatures cooked and merely the sight of them made me feel sick… I tried to be as graceful as was possible…Thereafter I became much attached to the Naidoos and enjoyed crabs very much,” Mandela had said.
The exhibition will tour the country after ending a two- month run at the Apartheid Museum.