The renaming of roads, streets and public buildings in South Africa has been met with mixed emotion from citizens. Many argue that it is a waste of money that can be used to build homes, invest in education or the health sector. However there is a great significance to the name changes which were proposed a few years ago. The idea behind the chosen names, was that these names, representing freedom fighters and struggle heroes will replace the names associated with the colonial and apartheid era. At the unveiling of new names in Durban in March 2007, eThekwini Mayor Councillor Obed Mlaba said, “We are honouring the people whom we know to have played a significant role in the liberation struggle, and so contributed immensely in the development of this country and the advent of democracy.” Of the more than 30 000 street names in the city, 90% are named after colonial and apartheid figures. The name change marks a significant change in the mindset of our nation, and more importantly inculcate pride and patriotism for the many generations of South Africans to come.
Renaming streets and roads after local heroes creates a sense of ownership and pride in communities. It is important to note that these individuals played a vital role in the struggle for freedom and naming streets and roads after them commemorates their contribution to society. Satyagraha in Pursuit of Truth will be featuring articles on the name changes and the significant roles these respective individuals played in the country, in this and following editions of the paper. This month we focus on Yusuf Dadoo. Grey and Broad Streets are now known as Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street, honouring his great contribution to creating a democratic South Africa.
Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo was born on 5 September 1909 in Krugersdorp in the West Rand. His father, Mohamed senior, arrived in South Africa in the 1880s after the first lot of Indians arrived in the country in the 1860s to work as indentured labourers in the sugarcane fields. Indian immigrants were divided on the basis of language, culture, tradition and religion. Mahatma Gandhi created a base for unity among the Indian people during his passive resistance campaign between 1906 and 1913.
As one follows Dadoo’s life, it tells the story of an individual who resisted racial discrimination and apartheid. He forged close links between the various racial groups in the struggle for national liberation.
As a schoolboy Dadoo attended meetings held by former stalwarts of Gandhi. He helped to mobilise support for the All-Indian National Congress in its struggle against British colonialism. Dadoo completed his matric at Aligarh, in India and it was here that his hatred for and opposition to British imperialism intensified.
In 1929 he went to London to study medicine and in a few months was arrested along with five other people for participating in a demonstration against the imperialist Simons Commission. In an attempt to curb his political activities his father insisted that he transfer to Edinburgh. However, it was here that his political horizons were widened and he started to understand the nature of colonialism and the capitalist system which gave birth to it.
The struggle in South Africa was in need of sincere, courageous revolutionaries who could capture and fire the imagination of the toiling masses, who could speak the language the people understood and were prepared to make the personal sacrifices demanded by a life-and-death struggle. Dadoo was one such revolutionary. He illuminated the political landscape with the sudden clarity of a meteor – but fortunately in a less transitory manner. He grew in stature, political experience and maturity and developed a steel-like resolve never to rest until South Africa was free from the triple scourge of racism, colonialism and capitalism. He dedicated all his efforts towards building the unity of the national liberation and working class movements in South Africa.
Dadoo, together with many veterans of Gandhi's resistance movement and contemporaries such as T. N. Naidoo, P. S. Joshi, Molvi A. I. Cachalia, Nana Sita, G.H.I. Pahad, J. Nanabhai and others, was determined to change the ideological and political positions of the Indian Congresses which were content to mouth rhetorical denunciations of racist legislation whilst pursuing a policy of compromise and of isolation from the African and Coloured people. They formed the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) in March 1939 to change its policies from the inside. The meetings attracted about six thousand people which was impressive considering that the total population of the Indians in the Transvaal in 1936 was only 25,493. During this period Dadoo went on speaking tours throughout the province and emerged as a powerful orator. People flocked to his meetings which gave them a renewed sense of pride and dignity.
Dadoo was also active in a wider political spectrum. In 1938 he was one of the founders of the Non-European United Front (NEUF) in Johannesburg. As one of the main speakers he constantly addressed mass meetings in African townships and locations in which he called for united mass action against living conditions. He became popular amongst the African people and not surprisingly a square in Orlando was named Dadoo Square. In the process of the struggle Dadoo and J. B. Marks became close friends and comrades-in-arms and remained so until Marks' death.
In 1939 he joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). Over the next few years he was repeatedly arrested for protesting and speaking out against racism and national oppression. On 9 March 1947 Dadoo, as president of the Transvaal Indian Congress, together with Dr G.M Naicker, president of the Natal Indian Congress and Dr A.B Xuma President of the African National Congress signed the “Three Doctors’ Pact”. The pact was a joint declaration of cooperation between non white people. It was a joint effort to attaining human rights and full citizenship for all South Africans. The “Three Doctors’ Pact” played a significant role in uniting and mobilizing the marginalized communities in South Africa to fight apartheid.