Jayaseelen “Jay” Naidoo was born on 20 December 1954 in Durban. He was the eighth child of Bakkium and Valatham Nadioo, a court interpreter. Naidoo matriculated from Sastri College, Durban in 1972.

Apartheid politics impacted on Jay at a very young age when in 1958 his family was evicted from their home in Durban through the Group Areas Act. In the 1970s, his brother studying at university took him to the South African Students Organisation (SASO) meetings. Here he listened to people like Steve Biko and Barney Pityana and their fearless challenge of White authority impressed him. He later enrolled at the University of Durban-Westville to study science, where he also joined SASO. His studies however, were interrupted by the Soweto Uprising of 1976. Across South Africa, police surveillance made study difficult for those associated with SASO. With SASO's banning in 1977, and leading activists in hiding, Naidoo started teaching in Durban, and later in Benoni, Johannesburg.

In 1978 on his return to Durban he joined the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) and spent six months organising sweet factory workers. Five years later, Naidoo was appointed Secretary General of the Sweet, Food and Allied Workers' Union (SFAWU), which became one of FOSATU's strongest affiliates. In 1984 he led the successful Simba boycotts for the reinstatement of more than 400 workers and in 1985 following the formation of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Naidoo became its inaugural Secretary General.

In 1986, Naidoo, together with Fholisani Mufamadi and Cyril Ramaphosa , led a seven-person COSATU delegation to a joint meeting of the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) for two days of talks in Lusaka, Zambia. He was also instrumental in forging the links between COSATU and the ANC when the latter was unbanned. Following the 1994 general election, Naidoo became a cabinet Minister without Portfolio tasked with the implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Two years later he was appointed Minister of Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting. Subsequent to this he pursued business ventures.

Jay Naidoo is married to Lucie Page, a Television director and they have two children.

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