South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Gagathura (Monty) Mohambry Naicker

(September 30, 1910 - January 12, 1978)

He was a medical doctor and prominent politician. His grandfather came from India to South Africa as a contract labourer. He was the eldest son of Papiah Gagathura Naicker, a well-to-do businessman, and his wife Dhanalutchmee Pillay. Naicker matriculated at the Marine College in 1927. In 1928 he left for the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, to study medicine. Naicker qualified as a medical doctor in 1934 and then returned to South Africa.

In 1935 Naicker established a medical practice in Durban and in the same year he founded a Hindu Youth Movement, which concentrated on the social and sporting activities of the youth. His medical practice attracted a large number of poor Indians. He became involved with their social and economic problems. In 1940 he joined the Liberal Study Group, a multiracial organisation, and was exposed to radical ideas. To a great extent this group laid the foundation of his later political direction.

Naicker's active political involvement started in 1941 when he became involved in the Indian trade union movement and associated himself with several strikes between 1941 and 1945. In 1943 he participated in Indian opposition to restrictions on their right to own land, which were imposed by the Pegging Act (Trading and Occupation of Land (Transvaal and Natal) Restriction Act of 1943). The ensuing modifications to the act that the government agreed to did not satisfy Naicker. In 1944 he was co-founder and first chairperson of the Anti-Segregation Council and joined in the increasing opposition to the moderate leadership of established Indian politicians such as A I Kajee and P R Panther. By 1945 Naicker had built up a great Indian support for his programme of complete equality. When in October 1945 he and like-minded people gained the upper hand in the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), he was elected as president, an office, which he held until 1963. Since 1946 he was an active participant in the Natal Indian Passive Resistance Campaign against the government's restrictive legislation, including the so-called Ghetto Act (Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act no.28 of 1946) which on the one hand restricted Indian land ownership and residence to specific areas in Natal, and on the other hand tried to soften the drastic effects by offering political representation to Indians through white members of parliament. Several times during the campaign his actions led to his arrest and imprisonment. In 1947 he served a six months' sentence for occupying land reserved for whites, and in 1948 he was again sentenced to six months' imprisonment for leading a group of resisters into the Transvaal at Volksrust.

Dr. Naicker called for a "United Democratic Front" as early as 1948, soon after the apartheid regime came to power. Speaking at a mass meeting to welcome him on his release from prison, he declared:

"Our struggle has lit fire in the hearts of other oppressed people and unshackled their bonds to unite with all oppressed people of South Africa. We have reached a stage when we can no longer think in terms of the Indian people alone. We must form a United Democratic Front and challenge any force that will lead the land of our birth to the fate of fascist Germany or Japan."

When he went to prison in the passive resistance campaign, his medical practice suffered. So did the finances of the NIC after a while. Dr. Naicker then put almost every penny he had at the disposal of NIC. While in prison, he even arranged the sale of his car to raise money for the NIC to organise the campaign. Those who thought he was a figurehead as President of NIC, chosen by young militants, were mistaken.

Naicker was in favour of co-operation between Indians and Africans against the prevailing government. This led to the alliance between the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), and the so-called Doctors' Pact of March 1947 in which the intention to co-operate was clearly spelled out, the signatories being Naicker, Dr Y M Dadoo (president of the Transvaal Indian Congress) and Dr A B Xuma (president of the ANC). Shortly afterwards he and Dadoo visited India to recruit support for the endeavours of the South African Indians, and received official recognition from Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah. In September 1948 they were prevented from attending the United Nations session when their passports were confiscated by the government. In January 1949, a day after the beginning of the bloody clashes between Indians and Africans in Durban, he and A W G Champion, the president of the Natal ANC, made an appeal for peace and an end to violence.

In September 1952 Naicker became involved with the Defiance campaign when he and the new president of the Natal ANC, Albert Luthuli, addressed a mass protest meeting in Durban. After the meeting Naicker and 20 black volunteers walked to the Berea railway station in Durban where they deliberately went into the waiting room for whites, and were arrested. He served a month's prison sentence for this infringement of the law.

During the 1950s Naicker was president of the SAIC for at least two terms. In 1953 he was restricted and forbidden to attend gatherings. However, he remained president of both the SAIC and NIC in name. Naicker was one of the accused in the Treason Trial of 1956-1961 but the charges against him were withdrawn in 1958. Between 1956 and 1968 he was served with several banning orders, the last of which expired in 1973. These restrictions in effect brought an end to his political activities although he headed the Anti-SAIC in 1977 and began a campaign against apartheid institutions created by the government. In 1966 he was forced to evacuate his house in Percy Osborne Road I Durban in terms of the Group Areas Act.

Naicker married Mariemuthu Apavoo of Port Elizabeth in 1936; she also led demonstrators in the Defiance Campaign. She took part in the Passive Resistance Campaign and on occasion was also arrested and imprisoned. They had a son and a daughter, whose name was Vasugee, who studied in Britain. His hobbies included reading, golf, snooker and table tennis. His Historical synopsis of Anti-Indian legislation in South Africa was published in 1945. In his political convictions and conduct he was a follower of Gandhi, and remained aloof from Marxist doctrine.

He was a believer of non-violence and was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi right to the end, and he was a close friend of Chief Albert Luthuli. His life was dedicated to service and he was greatly respected for his sacrifice and integrity.

He died on January 12 1978, at the age of 67 after a short illness. People of all racial origins attended his funeral. He loved life, and at his funeral, Alan Paton described him as "jollity personified".


1-New Dictionary of South African Biography, Pg 196-7
2- http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/congress/gmbio.html.


This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH