As one who has had the privilege, honour and, indeed, the pleasure of being a close associate and comrade-in-arms of Dr Naicker - MONTY to all of us - in the political arena for the last forty years, it can be said without exaggeration that he was the greatest leader that the Indian community has produced since the time of Gandhiji.
Monty was a man of the people who believed in collective leadership and made an invaluable contribution in transforming the Natal Indian Congress once again into a mass organisation, unifying and mobilising all sections of the community - the working class, small traders, professionals and intellectuals, youth, students and women - for mass political action.
He strongly advocated and assiduously worked for the unity of the people, irrespective of their religious beliefs or political affiliations, in the common struggle against racial discrimination and for full democratic rights and equal opportunities for all.
Monty was an ardent revolutionary nationalist and one of the main architects in laying the foundation of building the "Unity in Action" of all the oppressed Black people in their common struggle for national liberation.
The Xuma-Naicker-Dadoo Pact of 1947, the National Day of Protest of 1950, the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and the Freedom Charter adopted by the Congress of the People in 1955 bear ample testimony to his fruitful labour in this direction.
Monty was born in Durban in 1910, the year in which the ruling capitalist class consolidated their economic hegemony over the whole country with political power to maintain and perpetuate it. The new constitution legalised racism, national oppression and class exploitation of the Black majority: African, Coloured and Indian found themselves voiceless and voteless in the land of their birth.
Earlier, Monty's grandparents were brought from India to work the huge sugar cane plantations owned by the growing class of white capitalist landowners. There were promises of a better life from that obtaining in a poverty-stricken India dominated by British imperialism. There were also promises of full citizenship. Reality was different. Whilst the labour-power of the Indian masses, harnessed under near slave conditions, built the economy of Natal and the country and created wealth for the white capitalist landowners, their own economic condition was dogged by want, poverty, unemployment and deprivation. The racism and racial arrogance of the white colonists found ready expression in laws denying them any semblance of civil liberties and democratic rights.
White tyranny and the harsh material conditions of life were answered by fierce campaigns of resistance, defiance and confrontation against white supremacy rule. The Natal Indian Congress (NIC) was formed in 1894 under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, later to become the architect of India 's liberation struggle. Struggle by way of mass petitions of grievances and demands, and deputations, were soon succeeded by the mass-based passive resistance campaigns of 1907 and 1913. Although these campaigns are known as "passive" resistance campaigns, they were in fact active campaigns of protest and defiance.
It was against this background that Monty grew up. At the age of 17 he was sent to Edinburgh in Scotland to complete his secondary education and study medicine. In 1934 he returned to South Africa , having successfully qualified as a doctor, and set up practice in Durban, where he inevitably became involved with the social and economic problems of the many poor who daily filled his practice. Political consciousness grew out of these conditions and the desire to find solutions to them. During the course of the next ten years Monty became involved in a number of organisations created to give organised expression to their struggle and drew nearer to the trade union struggle. Together with a group of radical activists, he formed the Anti-Segregation League to mobilise the Indian masses against the Smuts regime's Pegging Act, designed to restrict Indian landownership rights and introduce residential segregation. The League also saw as its other main task the ousting of the reactionary "leadership" dominating the once-powerful NIC in the interest of the tiny merchant class so ready to compromise in its own narrow interests.
In October 1945 the radicals seized control of the NIC with mass support. Monty was acclaimed by a crowd of 12,000 enthusiastic supporters as the new President, and the new executive, drawn from all walks of life - workers and trade unionists, doctors, nurses, teachers and progressive small traders - proceeded to transform Congress once more into a people' organisation. In December 1945 the militant section of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) gained power in an attempt to unite all anti-racist and democratic forces in our country.
The new pledge by a united leadership of the Indian Congress reflected the force of ideas towards unity in purpose and action of all the oppressed and exploited: "to make common cause with all sections of the Non-European peoples in economic and political issues." The year 1946 saw the ideas of united struggle advance by leaps in the three great mass-based campaigns launched by the black people: the great African Mineworkers` Strike, the Anti-Pass Campaign and the Passive Resistance Campaign against Smuts' Ghetto Act for the Indian people.
Monty Naicker, together with the new leadership, threw himself unsparingly into mobilising the people to defy the Ghetto Act. Thousands defied by occupying plots of land and areas from which the Act excluded them. More than 2,000 courted arrest and imprisonment; among them Monty. But not before he and myself left for India and gained support for the people's cause. The following year, an independent India cut off all diplomatic and trade relations with the racist regime of South Africa and raised and condemned the policy and practice of white minority rule at the United Nations. The cause of the Black people's struggles was internationalised and has remained a burning issue for freedom-loving people the world over. More important was the way in which these three great campaigns interacted on each other, drew pledges of support and solidarity from each other and drew the forces of national and class liberation closer.
On 9th March 1947 the high degree of unity in action and perspective during the historic campaigns of 1946 found organisational expression in the Joint Declaration of Cooperation issued by Dr A. B. Xuma of the ANC and Doctors Monty Naicker and Yusuf Dadoo of the Indian Congresses. The Xuma-Naicker-Dadoo pact laid the foundation for the formation of the Congress Alliance in 1955. For Monty, who at his inaugural speech as President of the NIC called for a united front of all anti-racist and democratic forces against white supremacy rule, an ideal was being given substance. It was an ideal which he lived for and practised in real life right to the end. During his lifetime he worked closely with all genuine patriots - Africans, Coloureds, Indians and democratic whites. He never built nor encouraged ideological barriers around him, being equally at home with Christian, Hindu, Moslem and non-believer; with communist and revolutionary nationalist. What mattered was the common struggle of the oppressed and exploited against the common oppressor.
Soon after the Declaration of Cooperation, the ANC and the Indian Congress with the full backing of the SACP (South African Communist Party) and the APO (Coloured People's Organisation) jointly launched the great Defiance of Unjust Laws campaign in 1952 as the practical testing ground of unity in action of the toiling masses. The Campaign became the most forceful reminder of the Power of the People when properly organised. Thousands defied selected unjust laws all over the country. More than 8,000 Africans, Indians, Coloureds and white democrats were arrested and imprisoned. The regime of white supremacy, conscious of the danger posed by the massive defiance, confidently and skilfully organised and with such united backing, introduced new draconian laws. But the new strategy of mass-based action in which the freedom of the people became the primary responsibility of the people themselves, could not be denied the entire decade of the 1950's. Nelson Mandela, then National Organiser of the Campaign, was to declare, when it became known that the Presidents of the ANC and NIC, Chief Lutuli and Monty Naicker had volunteered to defy jointly: "We can now say that the unity of the Non-European people in this country has become a reality."
Monty emerged from his period of imprisonment after the Defiance Campaign with a renewed and undaunted vigour setting about organising and mobilising the people in the campaign of seeking out from the people their deepest aspirations and demands for a future South Africa and consolidating the unity thus far forged.
In March 1954 the alliance between the ANC and the Indian Congress was strengthened by the CPC (Coloured People's Congress), the COD (Congress of Democrats, the organisation of white democrats) and the SACTU (South African Congress of Trade Unions, the only non-racial trade union council in South Africa). From the Congress Alliance, headed by the premier liberation organisation, the ANC, organisational unity was crowned on 26 June 1955 - South Africa Freedom Day - with political unity with the adoption of the Movement's basic programme of principles - the Freedom Charter.
In December 1956, Monty together with 155 of the people's leaders was arrested for High Treason.
The trial dragged on for five long years and in the end all the accused, once facing the possibility of the death sentence, were released. Monty himself like so many other Treason Trialists was already serving a 5-year banning order when charged.
But the people were not deterred. New forms of struggle to cope with the new situation were being forged and prepared. The massacre of the African people at Sharpeville and the banning of the ANC closed the doors to the possibility of non-violent change in our country. On 16 December 1961, with simultaneous acts of sabotage in the major provinces of our country, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the national liberation movement, led by the ANC, announced to all South Africans: "There comes a time in the life of a nation when there remains only one choice: Submit or Fight. That time has now come to South Africa ."
Indian militants joined their African and Coloured compatriots within the ranks of MK and a new chapter in the history of our national liberation opened.
For Monty Naicker the years from 1960 to 1974 were years of continuous banning orders, restricting his life and effectively cutting him off from any political activity. Failing in health, he nevertheless became from 1977 the head of the anti-South African Indian Council Campaign to mobilise the Indian people once more to reject the dummy Indian Council and the fraudulent three-tier Parliament for whites, Coloureds and Indians.
Almost his last sentiments and act in hospital, according to a close friend,3 as reported in The Leader, were:
"Monty," I called.
"Hello", he replied.
"How are you?"
"Well," he said, "getting on - but things in this country - they are moving too slow - too slow for change."
His hand went up in the clenched fist salute and stayed there.
" Amandla !", I said. The clenched fist grew firmer...
I had to return it to bed.
Monty Naicker died as he lived: Defiantly, heroically. The greatest tribute we can pay to this great son of the people is to intensify the Freedom Struggle.
HAMBA KAHLE MONTY NAICKER!