Poomoney Moodley

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Communist, political activist, 90 day detainee

First name: 
Poomoney
Last name: 
Moodley
Date of birth: 
28 June 1926
Location of birth: 
Mooi River, Natal
Date of death: 
11 August 1982
Location of death: 
Clairwood, Kwazulu-Natal

Poomoney Moodley was born in Mooi River, Natal on 28 June 1926 to Ramsamy  Dharamalingam Moodley and Kanniamah Moodley; who themselves were children of Indian indentured labourers in Natal. In 1930, when Poomoney was two years old, the family moved to Clairwood. Her father was a policeman and her mother supplemented the family income by selling vegetables, taking in washing and doing some dressmaking.[i] However, money was constantly scarce and Poomoney eventually left school in Standard 5.[ii]

Although most of her contemporaries were confined to working within the home, Poomoney broke with tradition and social norms when she started working at the Fosa in 1945 at the age of 19. She then went on to do a nurse aide training course at King George Hospital, a government hospital treating tuberculosis patients. She unfortunately contracted the disease herself, which resulted in the loss of one lung and the use of her left hand. She was re-assigned to the X-Ray Dept of King George Hospital where her duties were considered to be less taxing.[iii]

Poomoney’s passion for fighting injustice was first ignited in the 1940s when she accompanied her father to meetings in Durban’s famous ‘Red Square’.[iv] Introduced to the discrimination inherent in the political and economic system in South Africa, she quickly became involved in the most significant campaigns of the period, including the famous Passive Resistance and Defiance Campaigns. She was a staunch supporter of the organisation of women and their equal role in the liberation struggle; and in August 1956 she participated in a march of 20,000 women in Pretoria to protest the pass laws. She also became a member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC)and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) in the mid 1950’s, gaining a reputation as a vibrant and effective organiser. In 1960 she played an active role in the Anti-Pass Campaign. That same year she organised a nurses’ strike for better pay and working conditions, which resulted in her being struck off the roll at King George V Hospital.[v]

In 1963 and again in 1964 Poomoney was incarcerated under the government’s 90-day detention laws, however, no charges were brought against her during this imprisonment.[vi] Under this legislation, she was denied access to family, friends, colleagues and even legal representation. Describing her first experience of solitary confinement, she said ‘it was the worst thing a human being could undergo. I used to talk to myself pretty often and to the other living creatures in my small world – especially the lice which used to crawl all over my body’.[vii] In 1965 Poomoney was detained again, this time on grounds of allegedly participating in illegal literacy classes. These arrests contributed to Poomoney’s already fragile health, which was the result of the removal of part of her lung due to Tuberculosis. Consequently, in later life she was forced to take a less active role in anti-apartheid resistance, working instead for the Friends of the Sick Association, although she continued to maintain a keen interest in politics and the fight for justice. She corresponded with political prisoners on Robben Island up until her death, even sending them some of them money from her meagre pension.[viii]

Poomoney Moodley died on Woman’s Day on 11 August 1982. She was 56 years old at the time. Much loved by her community, her coffin draped in the ANC flag was carried through the streets of Clairwood to her final resting place at the Clairwood cemetery.[ix]

Those who paid tribute at her funeral included Helen Joseph, Archie Gumede and Sibongile Kubehka, whilst letters and cards from Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Billy Nair, Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo were read out.[x] The NIC commemorated her personal contribution to the struggle, writing:

Quiet yet strong, shy yet humorous, she had a kind and compassionate disposition to people – whatever their standing. Dedicated to the achievement of freedom and to democratic practices she was the model of the disciplined ‘organisation person!’ Poomoney worked tirelessly to enhance the struggle. She had no time for arguments. The work was more important.”

[xi]

Endnotes

[i] Phyllis Naidoo, ‘No Revolutionary has the right to be a coward’, pamphlet dated 11 August, 1994, p.1

[ii] Ibid., p. 2.

[iii] Ibid, p.2.

[iv] NIC biography and tribute to Poomoney Moodley.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] NIC archive of press coverage of Poomoney Moodley.

[viii] NIC biography and tribute to Poomoney Moodley.

[ix] Phyllis Naidoo, ‘No Revolutionary has the right to be a coward’, pamphlet dated 11 August, 1994, p.4.

[x] NIC archive of press coverage of Poomoney Moodley.

[xi] NIC biography and tribute to Poomoney Moodley.


References:
• NIC biography and tribute to Poomanie Moodley (1982), available at http://scnc.ukzn.ac.za/doc/B/Ms/Moodley_Poomanie_Politics/Moodley_P_Comm... (accessed 01/08/16).
• Press cuttings relating to Poomanie Moodley and complied by the NIC, available at http://scnc.ukzn.ac.za/doc/B/Ms/Moodley_Poomanie_Politics/Moodley_Pooman... (accessed 01/08/16).

Last updated : 07-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 05-Sep-2011