Hemant Kumar Waghmarae was born on 24 October 1948 in Mumbai, India to Vishnu Maroothi Waghmarae and Indumati Bane Waghmarae. He is one of seven children.
He attended the St. Paul’s Catholic school in Mumbai, India, for five years. The family arrived in South Africa from India in 1958.
He completed his primary education at the Surat Hindu Primary, Durban and then attended Nigel High School, Springs Secondary School and matriculated from William Hills High School in Benoni in 1967. These high schools are all in Gauteng (formerly the Transvaal).
He then completed a two year Primary School Diploma at the then Transvaal College of Education in Johannesburg in 1970. Following this, he obtained his Senior Secondary Education Diploma through correspondence and completed that in 1981.
In 1986, Waghmarae completed his B.A.degree, majoring in Education and History and successfully completed a B.Ed. in 1990 at Wits University. In 2000, he partially completed the course work for a M. Ed at Wits University. He also has a Marketing qualification.
After he completed the Diploma in Education in 1970, Waghmarae was posted to Middelburg in the Transvaal, about 150 kilometres from Nigel where he stayed. There was a post available in Nigel as well as Heidelberg, 15 kilometres from Nigel, but the then House of Delegates insisted that he be posted to Middelburg. This was a punitive measure to keep him away from urban areas because of his involvement with the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and other political activities. He resigned without teaching a day and found a job at the Globe Electric Company in Johannesburg.
At Globe Electrical, he was given a different coloured and cheaper cup and saucer for tea whilst his White colleagues had tea taken to their offices, whereas he had to get his from the kitchen. When Waghmarae enquired from management why he had a different teacup, they said that they had to buy one for the new staff. However, a week after he started a new White person joined the company and this person got the same cup as the other whites. As a result, he promptly resigned and found another job at a drug company. He worked here for eight years as an office manager. It was here that he was arrested under Section 6 of the Suppression of Communism and Terrorism.
His political education began when he moved to Nigel, in the Transvaal in 1962, where he stayed with his cousin, Jessie Waghmarae, whose husband Dr. Vallabh Jaga, was very involved in the early days with the Transvaal Indian Congress.
Dr. Vallabh Jaga had a vast collection of interesting books, which he urged him to read. Waghmarae devoured these books by Karl Marx, Franz Fanon, Eldridge Cleaver and many of the classics of English literature, from Dickens through to Shakespeare.
Whenever he visited Durban with the Jagas, they made it a point of visiting Dr. Jaga’s friends. Some of them, such as Ismail and Fatima Meer, Dr. Farouk Meer, Judge Thumba Pillay, Judge Hassen Mall, N.G. Moodley, Dr. Hoosen Seedat (Dawood Seedat’s brother), George Sewpersad, M.J. Naidoo and Billy Nair who left a lasting political impression on him.
In the then Transvaal, they would visit Yusuf and Amina Cachalia, Dr. Ismail Cachalia, Amin Kajee, Peppy Rawat, Dr. Abdulhay Jassat, Cassim Saloojee, the Naidoo family ( where I met Indres, Prema, Shanti) and Dr. Rashid Bulbulia.
He was elected as a representative of the Transvaal College of Education, Students Representative Council, in 1969, to the inaugural launch of SASO at the Medical College at Wentworth, Durban. Here he met Steve Biko. Immersed in the Congress traditions, he was reluctant to follow a, ‘racially segregated’, course that the SASO conference was embarking on.
His friend Farouk Majam and he proposed a motion for a non-racial clause that united anybody, irrespective of race, who opposed Apartheid, but their proposal only received four votes. This conference convinced him that this was a tactic and strategically it was important for Black persons (African, Indian and Coloured) to stand up for themselves and build unity and pride in our traditions and history.
Thereafter, he became involved with the work of the Black Peoples’ Convention, Black Community Projects and generally any organisation or persons that opposed Apartheid.
The 1976 Soweto Riots triggered his anger against Apartheid into organised action. Ismail Meer phoned his Uncle, Dr. Jaga, to inform him that his wife Fatima, son Rashid and son-in-law, Bobby Marie were detained at the Fort and Modder Bee prisons. He wanted their assistance to set up a food and welfare committee to assist all the detainees.
They had a meeting with activists in Benoni and set up a Committee. Waghmarae used to receive money from Anne Hughes from the South African Council of Churches (SACC) to buy provisions for prisoners at both the prisons. This was a precursor to the Detainees Support Committee (DSC) set up by Dr. Coleman in 1980.
The Committee decided that Waghmarae buy the food, sometimes prepared or tinned and they took turns to deliver it to the prison. They also assisted some of the detainees with their notes and other materials for their studies.
In April 1978, Mohammed Timol invited Waghmarae to attend a meeting to set up an anti-apartheid organisation in the aftermath of the Black Friday in September 1977, when numerous organisations were banned and some newspapers were closed down. His friend, Prema Naidoo, urged him to attend this meeting. Waghmarae presented a paper based on the Freedom Charter and chaired some of the breakaway sessions. This was to lead to the formation of the Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO).
When the votes were counted for the leadership of AZAPO, Ismael Makhubela was elected the President designate, Waghmarae was the Vice President and Lybon Mabaso was elected as the Secretary General.
On the morning, following the meeting, a photograph of the full executive of AZAPO appeared on the front page of the Rand Daily Mail. That afternoon, the Star carried the news that the executive of AZAPO was arrested under Section Six of the Terrorism Act. He was not among the group arrested but from that afternoon until he was arrested on 6 June 1978, the security police constantly harassed Waghmarae.
They asked him to report to John Vorster Police Station, they raided his house with a search warrant for pornographic literature; they followed him, watched his every move and eventually arrested him at his workplace in Doornfontein in Johannesburg. His manager at the time, who used to be a Major in the South African Army, asked the security police why they were arresting him and they replied, that it he was being arrested under Section Six of the Terrorism Act and that they could not give him details.
At John Vorster Police station he was severely assaulted Waghmarae, After this he was taken to the Protea Police cells.
Here he was shoved into a detention cell, large enough for at least 10 prisoners. There was one filthy toilet in one corner with no seat, a one-inch thick mat for his bed and dirty, flea infested, threadbare, grey blankets. There was a basin with only a cold-water tap. This was in the midst of a Transvaal winter and the numbing cold of the concrete floor pierced his bones that night.
His family did not know where he was but his brother who worked with him informed their cousin. His detention was deemed ‘incommunicado’ which meant no means of communication whilst in solitary confinement. However, a friend, the lawyer Shan Chetty informed his family where he was being detained.
The Progressive Federal Party parliamentary spokesperson, Helen Suzman addressed a question to the Minister of Police, about humanitarian concerns and needs of the families of detainees to know the location where their family members were being held.
There was no contact visit at all, but a few days later, he received a parcel with some fresh clothes, basic toiletries and food. When the clothes that he wore at the time of the arrest were sent home, his family realised that he was being tortured because they noticed bloodstains.
By the time he was detained, Ishmael Makhubela and Lybon Mabasa were severely tortured, the worst being the electrocution of their genitals. Waghmarae was told this by a Major Heystek who showed him the bare electric wires that they used to torture them. He bragged about it and told him that if he wanted to avoid this form of torture he had better cooperate fully with them. He also made Waghmarae listen in to some of the horrifying screams that were coming from the room next door to the torture chamber. Heystek was really obsessed with knowing who had invited him to the meeting and he could not get over the fact that Waghmarae had the names and telephone numbers of numerous well known African National Congress (ANC) members, such as Winnie Mandela and Fatima Meer. He wanted to know why he was attending a Black Consciousness organisation meeting.
Fortunately, by mistake, one day the security police put Makhubela, Mabasa and Waghmarae in the same police vehicle, to be taken back to their cells. Both of them whispered that he need not fear and that he should give the police similar information that they had given, as they would think that he was co-operating. This he did and was beaten with a shambok repeatedly when his answers did not meet the security police’s desired expectation.
However, although the security police had his passport, they did not notice that he had just returned from Botswana. Waghmarae had nightmares in detention about this trip as he was not officially an ANC member, he was sent by Prema Naidoo to see Mac Maharaj, to find out the route that was taken, by recently escaped political prisoners, Alex Moumbaris, Stephen Lee and Tim Jenkins who had made their way to Botswana from South Africa.
After several weeks in detention he was released from the Protea Police station on the 7July 1978. A week or two after his release, Joe Variawa and Abunaker (Hurley) Asvat visited him with some AZAPO comrades. He was told about the banning of Makhubela and Mabasa and that since he was the Vice-President, he needed to take on the interim leadership position and to grow AZAPO. However, he was committed to his original thesis of non-racialism and decided that he could not take on this responsibility.
He went back to teaching the following year and became involved with the Teachers Association of South Africa (TASA), National Education Union of South Africa (NEUSA), Progressive Teachers League (PTL) and eventually the South African Teachers Union of South Africa (SADTU).
Presently he is involved in civic and education duties.
He was part of the team that conceptualise and planned the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, which opened in 2004, where he is presently the School Support Manager involved with some innovative school development programmes. Sci-Bono is the largest science centre in Southern Africa. Its major goal is to stimulate interest science and technology and to promote career education in these critical areas of economy.
Biographical material supplied by Hemant Kumar Waghmarae