Indrasena Elatchininathan Naidoo

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Biographical information


Political activist, banned person, political prisoner, Secretary of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress, executive committee member of the Transvaal Indian Congress, founding member of the Human Rights Committee, member of uMkhonto we Sizwe and the South African Communist Party, Robben Island prisoner, banned person, Deputy Representative of the ANC to the German Democratic Republic, ANC Member of Parliament in the democratic South African Parliament

First name: 
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
26 August 1936
Date of death: 
3 January 2016
Location of death: 
2 Military Hospital, Cape Town, Western Cape

Indrasena (Indres) Elatchininathan Naidoo worked as a clerk and became the main support of the family after the death of his father Narainsamy Thambi Naidoo, a leading political activist, in 1953. Indres was an active member of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress and he became Secretary in 1953. He was elected an Executive Committee member of the Transvaal Indian Congress in 1958, and he was one of the founders of the Human Rights Committee in 1973. He was recruited as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation") (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1961 and joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1961.

On 17 April 1963, he was arrested with two other Indians - Reggie Vandayar (who was Indres’s MK commander) and Shirish Nanabhai - after they blew up a railway tool shed and tried to dynamite a railway signal relay case. Subsequently two of his other comrades were also arrested Abdullay Jassat and Laloo Chiba.

Indres and his friends were among the first to be caught in the Transvaal while committing sabotage as members of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) ("Spear of the Nation"), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), after they had been betrayed by a spy. They were also among the first victims of policemen who were specially trained in brutal and sophisticated torture of freedom fighters.

Indres was shot in the shoulder before capture and kicked when he fell on the floor. He was taken to the hospital to remove the bullet and then to his home for a search with his shirt saturated with blood. He was beaten and tortured during the next few days. The following is an extract from his account:

   I felt a punch, and before I realised what was happening all the police had  made a ring around me and were kicking and pushing me, saying ‘Now we’re playing rugby’ - one policeman would dive full length on to me, hitting me on the side, then another would come up and kick me as though I was the ball...

The next thing, I felt a wet cold canvas bag being put over my head... they started squeezing a knot and choking me. I gasped for air, and every time I breathed in, the canvas hit me in the face. I was choking, my nostrils and mouth were blocked by the wet canvas; the harder I tried to get air into my lungs, the tighter the bag clamped over me, cutting off the air, preventing my lungs from working..

’Coolie, today you’re going to die. Laughter. ‘We’ve got the bastards.’

I was struggling, thrashing around, almost unconscious.

Laughter and talking among themselves. The bag was released and I swallowed air desperately, but then the canvas slapped back into my mouth and once more I started to choke, my body in a total panic.

’Coolie, you’re going to talk.’ More  laughter.

I kicked my legs and arms as hard as I could, feeling my head go dizzy. The bag opened. I was finished. I could hardly stand...

They pushed me into a chair, and I found my shoes being taken off and two policemen holding my hands behind the back of the chair.. One of the group started hitting me on the soles of my feet with a rubber baton and a terrible pain shot up my leg...

Next I felt all sorts of wires being attached to me... My arms were stretched out at my sides and I was held down from behind, and then I saw the main lead running to a dry cell battery... as they attached the lead to the battery I felt a dreadful shock pass into my body...

Again the shock travelled through my whole body, convulsing every particle of me, going on and on forever, absolute pain from top to toe.

When Indres and his friends were eventually brought to trial, they told the court that they had agreed to commit sabotage "as a form of protest against oppression and government policy", after persuasion by a Gamat Jardine and on the assurance that there was to be no damage to life.

The only person who could have tipped off the police, Gamat Jardine, disappeared after the event. An enterprising newspaperman found him in Cape Town a month later but he was never arrested.

Indres and his colleagues were sentenced on 13 May 1963 to prison for ten years. About two hundred people waited outside the court in a demonstration of solidarity and shouted freedom slogans.

He was whipped and assaulted in Robben Island prison where he spent ten years. Because of the assaults he became totally deaf in his left ear.

Before release in May 1973, after ten years in Robben Island prison, Indres was served with stringent banning orders. He was confined to his home each day from dusk to dawn and on weekends and holidays. He could not attend “gatherings” or receive visitors, and could not leave the magisterial district of Johannesburg. He was also required to report to the police once a week. He could not even "communicate" with his sister Shanthie and his brother Murthie as they were also banned.

When he was released, many relatives and friends waited at the prison gate to receive him. Since he was prohibited from attending gatherings, they had to embrace him one by one. When Indres married soon after his release, he needed special permission to enter the Magistrate’s Court for the wedding and to be with three witnesses. He was allowed, to go to Cape Town for a brief honeymoon.

He managed to find a job with Frank and Hirsch, South African distributors for the Polaroid Corporation of America, and rose to a senior position as chief storeman for the company. In 1976, the company asked its black employees to take a lie detector test: Indres refused, considering that an affront to dignity, and was fired. He escaped from South Africa in January 1977 to work for the African National Congress (ANC) abroad.

The Polaroid Corporation had undertaken, because of public pressure in the United States, not to sell its products to the military and repressive agencies in South Africa. It claimed that its agent, Frank and Hirsch, was following liberal employment policies and assisting blacks. Indres produced proof that Frank and Hirsch was secretly supplying Polaroid products to the South African regime. There were strong protests in the United States and Polaroid was obliged to close its operations in South Africa.

In 1976, he left South Africa and was sent to work in Maputo, Mozambique for the ANC. While in Mozambique, Indres worked in the office of the ANC and was actively involved in activities of MK, of which he was a leading member. He was transferred to the ANC Headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia in 1987. After a year, he was sent to Berlin, GDR, as deputy representative of the ANC from 1988 to 1991. The South African regime attempted to assassinate him in Mozambique and in the GDR.

He returned to South Africa in 1991 after the bans on the ANC and MK were withdrawn. After the democratic elections in 1994, he was elected an ANC Senator and then a Member of Parliament from 1994 until 1999.

In 1982, Penguin published Island in Chains, a book by him on his experiences in Robben Island prison. The second edition in 2003 contains an epilogue describing his activities in Mozambique, Lusaka and Berlin.

Indrasena (Indres) Elatchininathan Naidoo passed away on 3 January 2016 at 2 Military Hospital, Cape Town, Western Cape. He is survived by his wife Gabriele Blankenburg.

• E.S.Reddy,  (2012). From an email to SAHO, from Mr E S Reddy, dated 30 June 2012.
•  O'Malley P. Naidoo, Indres from the Heart of Hope [online]. Available at [Accessed 5 February 2013]
• Truth and Reconciliation Commission, (1997), Truth And Reconciliation Commission - Special Hearings ”“ Prisons. The Naidoo Family, [online], Available at  [Accessed 7 February 2013]
• The ANC’s political underground in the 1970sin The Road to Democracy in South Africa: Volume: 2, 1970-1980,
• The Presidency - Ama Naidoo (1908”“ 1993) - The Order of Luthuli in Silver, [online], Available at  [Accessed 7 February 2013]
• Indres Naidoo, from Who’s who Southern Africa,[online], Available at [Accessed 7 February 2013]

Last updated : 05-Jan-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 13-Mar-2013

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