Satyagraha Outstanding Community Service Awards

The Satyagraha Outstanding Community Service Awards are awarded by the Satyagraha-in Pursuit of Truth newspaper to South Africans who have been outstanding in their contribution and service to their communities and country. Past recipients of these awards have included Vishwaprea Suparshad, an outstanding community and political activist and Eric Molobi, a founder member of the UDF and an active anti-apartheid activist.

The 2007 awardees are Victoria Mxenge, a fearless activist in the anti-apartheid struggle and a leading member of the Natal Organisation of Women, the detainees Support Committee and the Release Mandela Committee, who was murdered by the forces of apartheid , Ann Colvin, a leader of the Black Sash, part of the UDF who tirelessly opposed apartheid laws and injustice and, George Sewpersadh, the president of the Natal Indian Congess and a staunch opponent of apartheid and injustice, Vergil Bonhomme, the chairperson of the Durban Housing Action Committee and a leader in the civic and community struggles in the Greater Durban area, Swaminathan Gounden, a veteran community and political activist who was active in the NIC, the SACP community and civic struggles and was a leading figure in the Child welfare movement, Archie Gumede, a leader of the anti-apartheid struggle, president of the United Democratic Front and a veteran member of the ANC and Billy Nair, an ANC, NIC and SACP leader who has dedicated his life to the cause of freedom in South Africa despite incarceration on Robben Island, numerous arrests, detentions and imprisonment and severe physical and mental torture.

Victoria Nonyamezelo Mxenge

Victoria Mxenge was born on January 1st 1942. In 1959 she matriculated from Healdtown High School in Fort Beaufort. In 1960 she registered as a student nurse at Lovedale Hospital in Alice, where she completed her nursing diploma in 1964. That same year on 23 November she married Griffiths Mlungisi Mxenge. Mxenge moved to Durban and undertook her midwifery training at King Edward VII Hospital. After completing her training she worked in the Umlazi clinic and lived in Umlazi. She studied for her Public Health Certificate as a full time student at Edendale Technical College in 1973. While at Edendale, in 1974 Mxenge registered for a B. Proc. Degree with the University of South Africa (UNISA). She graduated in 1981 and was articled to her husband’s legal firm. She was admitted as an attorney in 1981.  While doing her nursing diploma at Lovedale, Mxenge attended political meetings at the nearby Fort Hare University.  Her life was repeatedly affected by her husband’s bannings, detentions and imprisonment. Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge had two sons- Mbasa and Viwe and a daughter Namhla. On 19 November 1981 Griffiths Mxenge was murdered by a Vlakplaas hit-squad. Undaunted Victoria continued the legal practise which had been handling the bulk of political cases in Natal, as well as many others in the rest of South Africa. Mxenge’s work involved assisting young people who had been detained and tortured by the security police. Mxenge was a member of the defence team that was to represent the UDF activists in the treason trial in the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court. In July 1985 Mxenge was attacked by four men in the driveway of her home in Umlazi, Durban. She was stabbed and shot at, shortly after getting off from a family friend’s vehicle. She died in front of her children. Mxenge's brutal murder was one of the most chilling episodes in the dark history of apartheid repression. She will be remembered for her active and ardent work in various community and women’s organizations.

Ann Colvin

Ann Colvin was born into a prominent Durban family in 1922.  She matriculated from Durban Girls College, excelling in both academic studies and sport. After a stint of working in support of the World War effort she married a British pilot and left South Africa.  After 20 years of living overseas in countries such as England, Hong Kong, Lebanon and Kuwait she returned in 1968 with her family.  Shocked and horrified at the injustice and inhumanity that she saw, she immediately threw herself into the anti-apartheid struggle by knocking on the door of the Black Sash.

Ann committed herself to fighting against white rule and domination. As a mature student, she enrolled at the University of Natal – Durban, where she majored in Philosophy and Politics, studying under Rick Turner, which was to have a lasting impact.  It deepened her political analysis and firmed her commitment to socialism.  Over the next twenty years Ann represented the Black Sash as the Chair of the Durban Branch. She became a familiar figure protesting with her sash and placard, attending meetings and working behind the scenes.  She worked very closely with the Natal Indian Congress and Diakonia, which was home to many struggle organisations on which she sat, such as the Detainees Support Committee and the ECC (End Conscription Campaign) and support for Conscientious Objectors.  With Griffiths Mxenge she started the Release Mandela Campaign in Durban.  The Black Sash, with Ann as the local representative, joined the ranks of the UDF.  As soon as the ANC was un-banned she formally became a member.  During the Natal violence and the elections she fulfilled the role of a Peace Monitor.

To this day Ann remains steadfast and fervent in her belief that the socialist ideals of the liberation struggle still need to be fought for.

George Sewpershad

George Sewpershad was born on October 7, 1936. He was the last elected President of the Natal Indian Congress. Sewpershad’s political involvement began with the Natal Indian Youth Congress and later with the Natal Indian Congress. He graduated with a degree in law from the University of Natal. 

In the 1976 during the school boycotts Sewpershad was involved in active campaigns and supported the struggle of the youth.  During the ensuing years Sewpershad walked the streets of many townships mobilizing people and addressing mass meetings.  He actively opposed group areas removals and re-housing of communities. Sewpershad and his colleagues were instrumental in forming civic committees in Chatsworth, Phoenix, Merebank, Central Durban, Isipingo, Verulam, Tongaat, Sydenham and Wentworth and providing political guidance to them. In 1979 two thousand residents attended a meeting addressed by Sewpershad in Chatsworth. In 1980 the Durban Housing Action Committee was formed with George being one of its founding patrons.

Sewpershad was arrested detained and banned on a number of occasions.  He remained undaunted and in the turbulent 80’s he was one of those charged for treason after having occupied the British Consulate’s offices in Durban in protest against the arbitrary  provisions of the Terrorism Act.  A man of courage and determination pursuing the cause of the poor and downtrodden to the end, Sewpershad died of lung cancer on May 18, 2007.  He will be remembered for his courage and commitment to the cause of human rights.  He  was a remarkable leader who stood by his principles of honesty and integrity.

Virgile Joseph Bonhomme

Virgile was born on the 15 March 1944 in Overport Durban. At age 15 he was apprenticed as an upholsterer.  He joined a trade union and actively recruited workers and thereby began developing his leadership qualities.  Virgile was one of the founding members of the Labour Party and was elected as Chairman of Natal Region.   The Labour Party participated in the Coloured Representative Council (CRC).  At the time Vergile believed that through this participation changes could be brought about.  This was his introduction in to active politics.  However he soon realised that the labour party was not mass based and being a people’s person, Vergile could no longer see himself aligned to a party which did not represent the masses of the people.  He resigned from the Labour Party. 

His passion for justice led him to organise the community around civic issues.  He was a founding member of the Durban Housing Action Committee to which a number of Residents Associations, Ratepayers Associations and Tennants Associations were affiliated and was elected the first Vice Chairperson of DHAC. In the 80’s Virgile together with other activists formed the United Committee of Concern (UCC).   He was elected the first Chairman of this organisation which called for the scrapping of the racist tricameral parliament and for a common voters roll for all South Africans.  He actively participated in the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and was elected as vice chairman of the Natal Region.  In the 90’s after the unbanning of the ANC, he was appointed a member of a 9 person Committee to set up ANC Branches in KZN.  He however did not seek any positions but instead opted to work relentlessly with patients who were trying to recover from alcohol and drug abuse.  He became Chairman of a Rehabilitation Centre.  His concern for the poor and downtrodden continues to inspire him.  After 48 years as a tradesman he continues to work in Furniture Restoration and Upholstery. 

Swaminathan Gounden

Swaminathan Karupa Gounden affectionately known as ‘Swami” was born in 1927 at the  ‘Magazine Barracks’ which was a home to many Indian families who came to South Africa as indentured workers. He became politicized at a young age mainly through his eldest brother’s involvement in politics. In wanting to improve the lives of ordinary people Swami joined the Communist Party in 1944 and the Natal Indian Congress in 1945. He played an important role in the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign as one of the ‘backroom boys.’ He together with many others were involved in recruiting volunteers to join the campaign. Swami was an active participant in the historic Kliptown Meeting in 1955 which formulated the Freedom Charter – the document that defined the vision of the freedom struggle. During this time Swami was employed at a shoe factory in Jacobs and was an active member of the Communist Party, and the NIC.  When he returned to work after the Kliptown Meeting he was given a week’s notice of dismissal by his factory supervisor.  He reported the matter to the union who agreed to take up the matter based on unfair discrimination and victimization. 

In 1958 Swami began work as a clerk at the Durban Indian Child and Family Welfare Society and worked there for 36 years.  He was arrested in 1965 for his activities in the then banned ANC and spent six months in jail. Swami is one of the co-authors of the book “Come to the Point” which is the story of the Indian Community who lived in the Point area of Durban. As a resident of the area Swami  tells the story of the many harsh and repressive conditions endured by the people of the area. Swami retired in 1994. At age 80 he is still actively involved in voluntary community work at the David Landau Community Centre in Asherville, Durban.

Archiebald Mtuzela Gumede

Archie Gumede as he was popularly known was the son of Josiah Tshangana Gumede (1870 – 1947), a stalwart of the African National Congress. Archie was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1914. Gumede joined the ANC, becoming at first the assistant branch secretary of Pietermaritzburg in 1949 and later assistant secretary for the Natal region of the ANC in 1951. Gumede was among those charged in the infamous 1956 Treason Trial. In 1976, before the Soweto uprisings, Gumede participated in the formation of an Education Action Committee to deal with the problems at African schools. In the aftermath of the Soweto riots, he became active in the Parents' Committee established in the Durban area. In 1979, Gumede was instrumental in the establishment of the Release Mandela Committee of which he became chairman. At its launch in August 1983, Gumede was elected president of the UDF, along with Oscar Mpetha and Albertina Sisulu. He was re-elected president in April 1985 at the UDF's first annual conference in Azaadville, Krugersdorp. In May 1990, he formed part of the ANC delegation that first met government representatives to open discussions on the ending of apartheid at Groote Schuur in Cape Town. Gumede has been banned, detained and arrested many times however he remained firm and unwavering, a veritable beacon of hope and guidance for many generations.

Gumede led the Natal Delegates to the Congress of the people at Kliptown where the freedom charter was drawn in 1955. He eventually qualified as an attorney-at-law and practiced at Pietermaritzburg.  He was elected in 1994 to the National Parliament of which he remained a member until his death in 1998.  He is remembered as an outstanding ANC Leader, who because of his outstanding leadership qualities  was able to channel the intense anger of the youth from violent actions into constructive opposition to apartheid. 

Billy Nair

Billy Nair was born in Durban on 27 November 1929.  He matriculated from the former M.L. Sultan Technikon now known as the Durban University of Technology (DUT), in 1949. He studied part-time whilst employed as a shop assistant from 1946-48 and as a bookkeeper for a firm of accountants. Nair worked for six months for a dairy, but was dismissed in 1950 as a result of his trade union activities. In 1951 he became full time secretary of the Dairy Worker's Union.

In 1949 Nair joined the Natal Indian Youth Congress and became it’s secretary in 1950.  Nair served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and represented it on the 1952 Defiance Campaigns Coordinating Committee, set up by the Congress Alliance.  In 1953 he took over leadership of 16 trade unions.

In 1955 the South African Congress of trade unions was formed and Nair was elected on its first executive committee.  Nair addressed the Congress of the People in Kliptown on 26 June 1955 where the Freedom Charter was adopted.  In 1956 Nair was one of the 156 Congress activists accused of treason. In 1960 Nair went underground for two months before being arrested and detained for three months at the Durban Central prison. He was subsequently issued with banning orders. 

In 1961 Nair joined the military wing of ANC Umkonto we Sizwe as one of its commanders.   Nair was detained on July 6 1963 and after spending 100 days in detention, he was charged with sabotage together with 18 others. He was convicted in 1964 and received a twenty year sentence which he served on Robben Island. Whilst in prison Nair completed his B.A and B.Com and most of his B.Proc degrees through the University of South Africa.  Undaunted Nair resumed his political activity in full force after his release.  He was one of six people who occupied the British consulate offices in Durban in protest against the provisions of the Terrorism Act.  A strategist and a fearless opponent of injustice, he was elected as a member of the National Assembly in South Africa’s first democratic parliament in 1994.  He retired after actively serving two terms.  Now 77, he lives in La Mercy with his wife Elsie.