Dawood Seedat (1916-1976) was the grandson of a Ladysmith, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) trader M.E. Seedat, who had nine children, one of whom, Ahmed, moved to Durban to educate his sons Dawood, Hoosen, Mohammed, and Moosa.
After qualifying as a bookkeeper, Seedat entered the political struggle in 1938.
He was elected secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA – now the South Afrian Communist Party – SACP) in Durban in 1943. In 1945 Dawood married Fatima Seedat, a revolutionary in her own right.
One particular story related by Phyllis Naidoo encapsulates the essence of Dawood Seedat. When he was 14, he attended an anti-pass campaign at Cartwright’s Flats in Albert Street, Durban on 16 December 1930. Seedat witnessed four people being shot by police, among them Johannes Nkosi. Years later, when Nkosi and his grave site were long forgotten, Dawood identified the grave at Stellawood Cemetery and erected a tomb stone at the site.
He and Fatima organised a ceremony to which Nkosi’s mother was invited. After the ceremony, the Nkosi family was invited to dinner at the Seedat’s flat at Hampson Grove.
Seedat together with H.A. Naidoo, George Ponnen, Cassim Amra, A.K.M. Docrat, P.M. Harry, Wilson Cele, I.C. Meer and others founded the Liberal Study Group (LSG) in 1937 which radicalised Indian professionals. The LSG published The Call for Freedom and Justice in Durban and sold it at various outlets in the city. H.A.Naidoo was its political editor, I.C. Meer the overall supervisor, and Dawood Seedat the proprietor.
Cassim Amra also played a leading role and several issues carried an announcement that he had written all the articles. The LSG also published newsletters of trade unions and the India League, which was headed by Dawood Seedat.
The Call was under constant police scrutiny. Dawood Seedat was a most vociferous critic of the war. Aside from articles in The Call and The Guardian, he also published a booklet Don’t Support the War. A Secret Memorandum of the Department of Justice dated 20 January 1964 recorded that ‘this pamphlet, coupled with the agitation of Seedat had a marked deterrent effect upon the recruiting of Indians for the war at the time.’
In July 1940, in reaction to its anti-war rhetoric, police raided the Seedats’ home. When Seedat refused to allow this ‘unwarranted intrusion, he was held back by the shoulders by two of the officers, whilst the third ransacked the place in real Gestapo fashion,’ and took away documents, pamphlets, and personal correspondence.
On 5 February 1941 he addressed a mass meeting at Red Square, Durban, before 2000 people and made a statement that became synonymous with his name: ‘If freedom will not be given to us, we will have to use force and take our freedom.’ He was charged with contravening the new National Security Regulations of 1941.
His other ‘scandalous and dishonouring words’ against King George VI included:
I now wish to tell you that I personally have no respect for King George VI … We have got no more time for kings and emperors. The King is not fit to be Emperor of India … The British Empire is not an Empire but a Vampire? It drains all the wealth out of India and keeps millions of our people in suffering, starvation, sickness, illiteracy, and without homes. Every act of assistance to Britain means the crushing of our Indian people at home and maintaining strongly the iron hands of the British imperialist robbers?
In court, Seedat made a passionate speech in his defence:
The non-Europeans of this country are called upon to sacrifice their lives for a cause that offers them nothing but insult and humiliation … It is foolish for anyone to think that the non-European people have the same attitude to this war as the British capitalist class … The present British constitution is but the outcome of a series of revolutions [to] break away from feudal oppression. If the ancestors of the British people thought these things were worth fighting for, so do we … The British Government is much concerned about the Polesand has gone to war on that issue but it has not shown itself in any way willing to grant the simplest of democratic rights to four hundred million in India, hundreds of millions in Africa and other parts of the British Commonwealth … If I say that I would like to see the downfall of the British Empire it is so that my people could begin to regenerate themselves.
Seedat was sentenced to three months with hard labour. When he was released on 17 July 1941, pamphlets were circulated widely advertising a meeting under the auspices of the Non European United Front (NEUF) and Nationalist Bloc of the Natal Indian Association (NIA) to accord ‘a Public Welcome to a Young Leader who was imprisoned for CHAMPIONING the cause of NON-EUROPEAN FREEDOM.’
Seedat was warned not to engage in subversive activities, but he ignored this and addressed the LSG on 31 August 1942, for which he was imprisoned for a further 40 days.
According to Rusty Bernstein,
The arrest of [Dr Yusuf] Dadoo and Seedat ‘triggered the biggest campaign of meetings, handbills and posters that the Party [CPSA] had managed for years … Whether we affected the fate of Dadoo and Seedat is hard to say. Both were found guilty and sentenced to short terms of imprisonment, making them the first martyrs of the Communist Party revival.’
From the late 1930s, he had been a member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), CP, LSG, India League, National Protest Day Committee (1950), and Stalin Memorial Committee.
He was particularly moved by the plight of shop workers who experienced ‘merciless exploitation by the business class’ and founded the Indian Shop Assistant’s Union in 1942.
He worked full-time for the Guardian newspaper from 1948. Banned in 1950, Seedat was listed in the US [United States of America – USA] Congress Report of 500 ‘most dangerous’ communists in the world in 1950.
From July 1951 to February 1952, he illegally visited the United Kingdom (UK), France, Palestine, East Germany, Russia and the People’s Republic of China. He returned with Chinese revolutionary songs which were confiscated by Customs officers.
In 1952, shortly after his return, Seedat told the Natal Indian Youth Congress (NIYC) that his visit to the ‘Iron Curtain’ convinced him that ‘the Fascists in South Africa were doomed.’ He addressed a meeting in Johannesburg on 1 October 1952 to celebrate the third anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and raised the ire of the police when he asked a meeting of the Stalin Memorial Committee in Durban on 21 March 1953 to observe a two-minute silence to honour [Russian leader] Stalin’s achievements. He was imprisoned for 14 days in September 1955 for holding illegal meetings at the corner of Grey and Lorne Streets. The charge of treason against him was dropped on 20 April 1959.
In Natal, attempts were also made to mobilise the youth, and H.A. Naidoo and George Ponnen formed the Natal Indian Youth League in February 1939, a federal structure of around 40 Indian youth organisations. Ponnen and Naidoo recruited people like Debi Singh, Cassim Amra, Dawood Seedat to the organisation.
The first Natal conference of the Non European United Front (NEUF) took place on 20 November 1939. A.I. Kajee and A.W.G. Champion were patrons of the body, H.A. Naidoo was elected Chair, Dr Goonam and Philemon Tsele vice-chairpersons, Cassim Amra secretary, Sarah Rubin (later Sarah Carneson) assistant-secretary, and Dawood Seedat was elected treasurer.
When Dr Monty Naicker, President of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) appeared in court on 26 April 1963, Seedat, according to police reports, was ‘amongst several known subversive elements who attended the hearing.’
Dawood and his wife Fatima were banned for five years in January 1964. She had been imprisoned during the 1952 Defiance Campaign, and once released, threw herself into activism as a member of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW); NIC, Natal Peace Council, Civil Liberties Defence Committee, and Society of International Friendship, among a host of organisations.
Dawood Seedat passed away in 1976.
Deesai, A. & Vahed, G. Monty Naicker from Reason to Treason, 2010, Pietermartizburg, Shuter.
- Dawood Seedat: 1916-1976 from Amandla, 19 April 2019
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