The Transvaal Indian Youth Congress (TIYC) was formed in Transvaal (now Gauteng) as the youth wing of the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) in 1945. Its formation was precipitated by dynamics within the South African Indian Congress (SAIC). There was a general feeling of the need to rejuvenate politics within the Indian community by infusing a younger leadership. In 1946 Dr. Monty Naicker became leader of the Natal Indian Congress while Dr. Yusuf M. Dadoo took control of the Transvaal Indian Congress. The leadership takeover of Indian politics by younger and more progressive generation led to the formation of the TIYC.
The TIYC was a successor of the Transvaal Indian Volunteer Corps, and played a significant role in the struggle against segregation and apartheid. Among its founder members were young and vibrant leaders like Ahmed Mohamed "Kathy" Kathrada who was later elected as Chairman of TIYC. Over time other members of the Indian community joined, such as Amina Cachalia, Essop Essak Jassat, Indres Naidoo, Fatima Hajaig, Moosa Moolla and others. The TIYC became a training ground where numerous members gained experience in organising protests and fighting against racial intolerance by the government.
In June 1946 the government passed the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act commonly referred to as the "Ghetto Act". The aspect of the legislation defined areas where people of Indian origin could, live, trade and own a piece of land, while the second offered Indians limited parliamentary representation through White representatives. Incensed by the Act, a day of hartal (mourning) was called and soon afterwards a passive resistance campaign that lasted two years was launched. During this period the TIYC played a critical role during in spearheading defiance against the Act. On 13 June 1946 Indians across the country went on a one day strike. The Natal Indian Congress led by Dr Monty Naicker and Transvaal Indian Congress under Dr Yusuf Dadoo held a meeting at Red Square to formally launch the passive resistance campaign. Thousands of protestors later went and camped on municipal land designated for whites only to court arrest. As a consequence, some of TIYC leaders like Ahmed Kathrada who were active in the campaign were arrested.
The TIYC was still a fledgling organisation when National Party (NP) came to power following the general elections in 1948, but its impact could be felt. The NP came and introduced a number of oppressive laws against Black people in South Africa.
The 1950s decade was one of the periods of heightened activity in the history of the TIYC. Members like Moosa Moolla actively participated in the 1950 May Day strike, in protest against the passing of the Suppression of Communism Act. On the 64th Anniversary of May Day, in 1950, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) called for a May Day strike to protest against the Suppression of Communism Act. The strike resulted in police violence that led to the death of 18 people across Soweto. It was during this period that TIYC members quickly moved up the ranks of the youth movement through actively participating in its activities such as silk-screening, putting up posters, writing and distributing leaflets. Amongst members that moved up the ranks of the TIYC was Moosa Moolla who was elected to the organisation’s executive committee and then as the joint honorary secretary and finally as Chair, a position he held for nearly a decade.
Amina Cachalia in her autobiography: When Hope and History Rhyme recalls that meetings of the TIYC were held at Kholvad House, a flat of Ahmed Kathrada located in Market Street. Some of these meetings would take place at night and other members would have to take her home after those meetings. It seems there were few female members in the TIYC at that time as most of the time she was the only female among male comrades.
In 1951, the TIYC sent Ahmed Kathrada as its representative to the World Youth Festival held in Berlin. At the end of the festival Kathrada travelled to Warsaw, Poland where he attended a congress of the International Union of Students. In 1952, Ahmed Kathrada returned to South Africa to take part in the Defiance Campaign. In his capacity as leader of the TIYC Ahmed Kathrada was elected to the executive of the World Federation of Democratic Youth in absentia in 1953. However, he was unable to take up the post due to restrictions placed on him by the Apartheid government.
The Defiance Campaign was the first campaign pursued jointly by all racial groups under the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) and the Coloured People’s Congress. The campaign was aimed at the six following unjust laws; Pass laws and stock limitation regulations, the Group Areas Act, the Separate Representation of Voters Act, the Suppression of Communism Act and the Bantu Authorities Act. The Defiance Campaign laid a foundation for the Congress Alliance, which in 1954 embarked on a series of campaigns that resulted in the drafting of the Freedom Charter in 1955. The TIYC leadership was involved in the campaign; Ahmed Kathrada served on the Alliance’s General Purposes Committee. Subsequently, Ahmed Kathrada, Essop Essak Jassat and others were banned and later arrested.
In December 1956 TIYC leaders Ahmed Kathrada and Moosa Moolla, along with 155 others, were arrested charged with high treason. They individually recall the support and acts of solidarity with the accused. Money for the bail was raised within hours.
According to Moosa Moolla, the women provided two meals everyday for five years, for all the accused, among them was Mrs Thayanagie Pillay and Dr Zainab Asvat. The two TIYC leaders were among thirty, including Nelson Mandela, Helen Joseph and Walter Sisulu to stand trial for the entire period until 1961. Despite the prosecutors believing that they had a strong case to secure a successful conviction, they were all acquitted in March 1961 after being on trial for five years. On 10 May 1963 Moosa Moolla was amongst the first to be detained under the newly promulgated 90-Day detention law. He was held in solitary confinement at Marshall Square Police Station. He later escaped from the police station along with Abdulhay Jassat, Harold Wolpe and Arthur Goldreich.
TIYC’s involvement in the armed struggle, prison and exile life
Early in the 1960s, TIYC leaders like Ahmed Kathrada played a critical role in the formation of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), military wing of the ANC which launched on 16 December 1961. Just a year following the launch of MK, TIYC leader Ahmed Kathrada was subjected to 'house arrest' for 13 hours a day and over weekends and public holidays. He went underground and continued to attend secret meetings in Rivonia - the underground headquarters of the ANC. In 1963 he broke his banning orders, and went “underground”, to continue his political work.
On 11 July 1963, the police swooped on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb where Ahmed Kathrada and other “banned” persons had been meeting. This led to the famous 'Rivonia Trial', in which Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni were charged with organising and directing MK. They were found guilty of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour.
In 1964, at the age of 34, Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island where he spent the next 18 years with his colleagues in the isolation section, known as B Section, of the Maximum Security Prison. Other members of the TIYC members who were actively involved in the MK were Indres Naidoo who was also arrested in 1963 and sent to Robben Island. Moosa Moolla who joined MK in 1964 was sent for a year to Odessa in the then-Soviet Union for military training in 1965. His group was the second unit to be sent to Odessa and it included Josiah Jele, Peter Tladi and Jacqueline. In 1966, after Odessa, Moosa Moolla went to Moscow for a six-month period in intelligence training. On his return to Dar es Salaam, he continued his work within the ANC’s Department of Publicity and Information as editor of the ANC’s news journal Spotlight on South Africa.