George Sewpersadh

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Biographical information

George Sewpersadh

Synopsis:

Lawyer, President of the NIC, banned, politcal detainee, member of the UDF

First name: 
George
Last name: 
Sewpersadh
Date of birth: 
7 October 1936
Location of birth: 
Cato Manor

George Sewpersadh was born in Cato Manor on 7 October 1936. His father was a newspaper vendor and his mother a housewife. His family was forced to move to Reservoir Hills as their property was taken over by the then Department of Community Development.

He first attended Manor Gardens Primary School until Standard Three (Grade 5). After this he attended the Cato Manor Primary School from Standards Four to Six. He then proceeded to Sastri College in Durban where he matriculated and continued his tertiary education at the University of Natal.

Some of his university tuition took place at Sastri College and at the City Buildings in Lancers Road in Durban. At that time there was segregation at the University of Natal, Black (African, Coloured and Indian) students received their education at a separate location from their White counterparts.

"The defining moment in South Africa was the formation of the first political party here in South Africa, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) by Mahatma Gandhi in 1894. The formation of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912 started the struggle then".

From 1955 to 1957 Sewpersadh studied towards his Bachelor of Arts degree, after which he studied law from 1958 to 1960.

"I joined the Natal Indian Congress in December 1956. I didn't like apartheid and I felt it was wrong. I had to do something about opposing apartheid. I was influenced a bit by the struggle in India. At that time Nehru and Gandhi were the two public figures who influenced me".

"After I joined the NIC, we formed a branch in Cato Manor. I think it was called the Manor Gardens branch. I was the Chairman of the branch. We used to have meetings about once a week and used to sell the Congress newspaper, at that time it was New Age. We also used to hand out leaflets when the Congress Movement held mass meetings".

"A State of Emergency was declared in 1960. The NIC was not banned, but most of the members were, so the organisation did not function from 1960 to 1971. In 1971 Mewa Ramgobin revived the organisation. After its revival, Mewa Ramgobin was banned and I was elected President of the NIC. When the NIC was revived we carries on with the same policy of the Congress Alliance".

"I was first banned in 1971for taking part in political activity and opposing the apartheid system, under the Suppression of Communism Act". Sewpersadh was then placed under house arrest from Fridays, 6 pm until Monday 6 am.

In 1980 there was a massive school boycott and Sewpersadh was detained and held in solitary confinement for 14 days at the Umbilo Police Station with Rabi Bugwandeen, Farouk Meer and Thumba Pillay. They were held in single cells for the entire day and were only allowed to exercise for half an hour to an hour per day. After 14 days they were taken to Modderbee Prison for another 36 days and then released.

" I was arrested again in 1985 for during the campaign against the Tricameral system. Together with Mewa Ramgobin, MJ Naidoo, Dr Jessop, Aubrey Mokoena, Paul David, Kadee Essack and Sam Kikane. We were kept in prison for about 50 days. We were held in Pietermaritzburg Prison from August until December. In December we were charged with treason with 15 others. We were acquitted in May 1986". In 1981 Sewpersadh was arrested for being out of the house while under a banning order. In December 1985 he was charged with treason and furthering the aims of communism and the ANC.

Sewpersadh worked with Archie Gumede after the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1982. "My contact with Archie Gumede was political". He also worked politically with Phyllis Naidoo. "The NIC used to work with the UDF and we formed the Chatsworth Housing Committee, a housing committee in Phoenix, which had certain flaws but it also had certain progressive aspects".

"The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) was an influential movement, it had an effect. It was formed while all the Congresses were banned, so in that vacuum, they stepped in and had some influence. We never really agreed with the ideology fully, although we recognise their contribution".

"Well, I never really joined the armed struggle, but I was never opposed to it. People had no other alternative after the banning of the ANC but to be involved in the armed struggle".

"The main factor was economic. That made the National Party (NP) release Nelson Mandela. The economy just could not function on the apartheid system. A minority could not go on oppressing the majority forever".

"I didn't oppose sanctions. No, I don't believe capitalism is the solution but you have to go through stages in history. I am impressed by Karl Marx's statement when he says, 'No social order ever perishes until all the productive forces for which there are room in it have developed. And a new and higher relation of production never appears until the conditions for their existence have matured in the womb of the old society'. By capitalism I just want to make this one point. From the beginning of time we have had social changes. The concentration of power in a few hands leads to exploitation and abuse and wrongdoing. The whole basis of change is to get more and more people involved in the sharing of power. We got rid of the feudal system and the capitalist system came about, but power again is concentrated in the hands of a few although people had the democratic vote in electing the government. The big companies are very powerful; they are monopolistic, controlled by a few people who are buying up all these small businessmen. So power is again going back to a very similar system where the power was concentrated in the hands of a few. They control the newspapers and people only get that one idea that is being put forward. They always put forward the view that capitalism is very good and don't show the weaknesses or wrong points of it. It is based on greed, based on selfishness and they are always criticising communism, which had certain flaws but it also had certain progressive aspects".

"When I joined the NIC in the 1950's that time socialism was working in overseas countries. The democratic countries and people had a sort of basically socialist vision. The Freedom Charter itself had a lot of socialist ideas there. So we had some sort of vision of the socialist society at that time".

"Some though should be given to nationalisation. I mean not a communist society, but start it and try it and see how it can work because I don't think it's going to last forever and forever. I don't think it can solve the people's problems".

Last updated : 04-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011