Rajaluxmi Pillay, 1944-2020

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra


Photo courtesy of South African History online.
Photo courtesy of South African History online.

Rajaluxmi and I were students at the University of Natal, Durban, South Africa.

We met occasionally with other students in the Student Common Rooms in City Building, ground floor, and in Marion Building, second floor.

We were enrolled in different programs. I never knew what courses she was enrolled in. We were acquainted for less than two years in 1966 and 1967.

Our first meeting was in February 1966 when we were cast in a University of Natal student production of the Ancient Greek play, Antigone, written by Sophocles, translated by Gilbert Murray. I played the role of Creon; she played the role of Ismene. Everybody involved was a volunteer.

The play was staged in the Kathiawad School theatre, a block away from the Saint Aidan's private hospital in the City of Durban. It was the first time that play was staged in South Africa with an all Non-White cast in racist South Africa, in the Kathiawad School theatre. To my knowledge, that historic record still stands in 2022, 56 years later.

At one time Rajaluxmi handed a few of us xeroxed copies of an optional class essay she had written, entitled, "The only parable in the Bible that prevails from Genesis to Revelations." From her contextual citations, she had to have read the Bible from cover to cover to write that essay. Her teacher, Professor (Miss) Margaret Dent, passed the essay, remarking she had never had an undergraduate student who had written an essay so thorough in its treatment of the topic, and so long; and that the essay was easily graduand caliber.

U.S.A. Senator, Robert Francis Kennedy, visited South Africa in June 1966. The White apartheid racist Government was at its racist evil worst. White police, plain- clothes, and uniformed, frequently barged into classrooms on the Non-White University of Natal campuses of Marion Building, City Building and Sastri College. The police would pick students, at random it seemed to us, and demand document identification. The documents were flung back on the student's desk, when returned. The plain-clothes officers never showed badges or other identification.

Of the thousands and thousands of Government officials in the four great Occidental Christian democracies: Britain, Canada, France, and the U. S. A., during the 46 years of evil racist White rule in South Africa; Senator Robert Francis Kennedy was the only one who had the righteous commitment to travel to South Africa and while in South Africa to say and do things, in a most gentlemanly manner, in open public defiance of the all-White South African Government's racism against Non-White South Africans.

We found out that the Senator would be visiting the centre of the Durban White campus, Howard College, on King George V Avenue, one evening. That campus was a few miles from the Non-White campus.

Rajaluxmi and I were among the group of Non-White students who walked to Howard College in the dark to see the Senator.

His black car stopped under a street light in front of the Howard College building. His pedestrian audience was a crowd of vocally antagonistic White students. There was not even one Non-White student visible because we knew that amongst those White pedestrians, were the Government's Secret Police. We kept to the shadows of the cluster of trees near that street light.

Did the Senator deliberately park under that particular street light?

He climbed on the roof of his vehicle, and stood up, and faced the trees. We were expecting a rousing speech of encouragement.

Instead, he sang the banned Non-White anthem, "Nkosi, Sikelel iAfrika." ("God, bless Africa.") He sang it in the language in which it was originally composed: Xhosa!

Forever and forever, God bless Robert Francis Kennedy, 1925-1968.

In the last quarter of the 1966 University year, Rajaluxmi ran for election to a seat on the Non-White Student Representative Council, operating principally out of Marion Building on Lancers Road. A salaried job. She won a seat.

She won in her first year at the University; I had been trying for nine years before her, and I was never elected.

It was a one-year office, but there was such Political upheaval on campus at the time, that at the end of the year in 1967, no new candidates came forward. The sitting Council had no choice but to serve another year. It was a diminished Council because some of their members had graduated out of the University.

Those were turbulent times in South Africa. The Whites-only Government ruled the Country by openly racist laws from 1948 to 1994. Only people of the White Caucasian race were free to move about in the country. All other races were designated, Non-Whites. The racist laws of the country restricted each Non-White race to its own Government-allocated Group Area.

Violent clashes between White police and Non-White Political protestors were happening in many places every week-or-so in three of the country's four Provinces. There was no such violence in the Orange Free State Province because the racist laws prevented Non-Whites from living there. When trains stopped at stations in the Orange Free State for Whites to board and disembark, Non-Whites were not allowed.

The laws declared there were four races in South Africa: Bantu (Aboriginal Negroid Blacks), Coloureds (Mixed race), Indians (Descendants from immigrants who arrived from India in the nineteenth century), Whites (Descendants of Europeans who first settled in South Africa in the seventeenth century.)

Rajaluxmi was a South African Indian; I was a South African Coloured. On the section of the University Campus we attended, there was no discrimination among the Non-White races. No White students were legally allowed to attend classes on the two Non-White Durban Campuses.

There was constant unrest on campus because there was violent competition among three Political Parties among the Non-White students: the Communists, the Sons of Young Africa, and the African National Congress (ANC). Each had their own brand of violent opposition to the White racist Government.

I had enrolled at the University in 1956. The Political violence among the three Parties was already in full swing. My application to join a Party, any Party, was rejected by all three for the same reason: I was too poor to afford the membership dues.

When Rajaluxmi arrived on Campus in 1966, she was already an ANC member. She was an active recruiter for her Party.

I was one of the many University Non-White students who had passports to enable us a quick emigration. My passport was due to expire in December 1967. My application in July for a renewal was denied. Passport denial always meant imminent arrest. I was resigned to join in prison the many other Non-White students who had been suddenly arrested, and were never seen again.

Rajaluxmi Pillay arranged for my secret exit from the country in September 1967, without expense to me. It would be 36 years before we saw each other again.

In all those years I tried to keep track of her, but since she was an ordinary ANC foot soldier, most of the time it was impossible to find any information about her whereabouts. What little information I came by was through former South African students living in England, writing letters to me, irregularly.

When the racist Whites-only South African Government was eventually defeated democratically in 1994, I thought it would be easier to find her. It was still impossible. I found out why in 2002.

In that year, I attended an international University conference at the University of Lesotho in the City of Roma in the Kingdom of Lesotho. Coincidentally, Rajaluxmi was attending an ANC rally in Roma at the same time. We met in a cafeteria. Both of us were speechless. For long, long seconds we just stared at each other. She told me why it had been impossible for me to find out about her.

In 1979 she was obliged to flee South Africa. The ANC transported her to neighboring Swaziland, a first stop for South Africans fleeing the racist Government. The Swaziland Government was not friendly because the South African Government invaded whenever they chose to in pursuit of refugees. South African refugees in Swaziland were continually being assassinated by South African agents who did not respect the laws and international rights of Swaziland.

The ANC did not let their fleeing members remain long in Swaziland. While in Swaziland, the refugees were continually and unexpectedly moved to different locations. Rajaluxmi was in Swaziland for a few weeks before she was transported to Zambia, and then to Angola. In Angola, the ANC taught her to drive different kinds of military vehicles, the first skill she had perfected in her life, she remarked.

ANC refugees on the run were as much in danger in these countries, too. The South African racist agents invaded all African countries south of the equator with impunity, kidnapping and assassinating.

Rajaluxmi believed that it was very probable she was not especially targeted by South African Government murderers because she always had been merely a worker in the ranks of the ANC. In South Africa, she was a messenger. From the time she left Swaziland, until 1990 when all ANC exiles were allowed to return to South Africa, she had engaged in only clerical work for the ANC.

Living on the run, in exile, took a serious toll on her health. She spent years in hospital in Holland. I had heard she had married in Swaziland in order to bypass legal difficulties of being a political refugee. She did not mention her marriage; I did not ask.

Although the White racist Government of South was defeated by democratic elections in 1994, their racism began to crumble in 1988, when the army of Cuba defeated the South African army at the battle of Quito Cuanavale, in Angola. The racist South Africans were supplied by Britain, Canada and the U.S.A. The Cubans were supported by the Soviet Union.

In 1990, the militarily defeated racist White South African Government was obliged to commit to an International Agreement to allow all South Africans living in exile, to return to South Africa, and not be prosecuted.

As an ANC agent recuperating in Holland, Rajaluxmi was informed of the impending military confrontation in Angola. She requested an assignment as a vehicle driver in Angola. Her request was promptly granted.

In hospital in Holland she and the doctors had quietly given up on the possibility of her survival. Had Quito Cuanavale not happened, she would have died in Holland long before South Africa had become a democratic victory for the ANC. She said she had never been so triumphantly happy, as when she drove her army jeep over the territory in Quito Cuanavale, Angola, that had been hastily abandoned by defeated retreating South African racist troops only hours earlier. She showed me a pocket-sized snap-shot of her in soldier unform, leaning against her jeep. She said she carried that snapshot on her all the time. She was planning to visit Quito Cuanavale once more.

When we parted in Lesotho in 2002, we exchanged email addresses. I wrote to her. She never replied. I did not persist, knowing what a heavy toll her fieldwork loyalty to the ANC must be taking on a person as frail as I had seen her to be in the Kingdom of Lesotho.

I kept close track of her life in South Africa. She continued to serve the ANC diligently up to the end, and she was well served, in return, by the Party, and by other people who were thankful for her sacrifices to bring about a truly democratic South Africa. She was a celebrity in South Africa, having been given many awards by the ANC and by her local Community. Of our small group of students at the University of Natal in 1966-1967, she sacrificed, and achieved the most to make South Africa a true Democracy.

When Rajaluxmi Pillay died, a eulogy was delivered at her funeral by Yasmin Jessie Duarte (1953-2022), the Deputy Secretary-General of the African National Conference. Duarte had been, at one time, the Special Assistant to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013), the first Non-White President of a fully democratic South Africa, after the fall of the all-White apartheid-racist Government (1948-1994).

Rajaluxmi Pillay, South African Non-White heroine nonpareil, rest in peace.

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