Thayanayagie (Thailema), daughter of Veerammal Naidoo and Govindasamy Kristshnasamy Thambi Naidoo, was four years old when her family moved to the Tolstoy Farm. Gandhi, with the help of Hermann Kallenbach, established the Tolstoy Farm where former political prisoners and families of prisoners could stay. Eventually, Thambi Naidoo took his family to live on the farm. Veerammal worked as a cook at Tolstoy Farm and Thambi Naidoo was in charge of marketing and sanitation.

As she grew up, her father used to tell her stories of the struggle for freedom in South Africa. He took her to meetings to protest discriminatory laws and she sometimes spoke at them. As a result, she became politically active.

After the First World War Thambi Naidoo of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) took his teenage daughters, Thayanayagie and Seshammal, with him to speak out against the The Asiatics (Land and Trading) Amendment Act South South African Indian Congress African Indian Congress(Transvaal), 37/1919.

In 1913, Seshammal, a toddler, had been in prison with her mother in Pietermaritzburg. Thayanayagie and Seshammal married the brothers, Perumal (1930) and Sooboo Pillay, respectively, of the Asiatic Bazaar (Marabastad) and went to live in Pretoria.

Seshammal died in 1935. In 1946, when the Natal Indian Congress and Transvaal Indian Congress, organised the Passive Resistance Campaign after the Asiatic Land Tenure and Representation Act /46 (“The Ghetto Act”) was passed, Thayanayagie helped Maniben Sita to organise a batch of women resisters from the Asiatic Bazaar. The members of the group included Thayanayagie, Maniben, Amina Jeeva, Thunga Dharmalingam (later Kollapen), Mrs Jassoobhen Gandhi, her sixteen-year old sister, Gowrie Bharoochie, Beta and Razi Mooloo, Muniamma and Shunmugam Pillay. Most of these women were under twenty. In September 1946, they were called to take their stand at the Gale Street site in Durban. They were arrested, sentenced to a month in jail, and taken to Pietermartizburg Prison, the same prison in which Thayanayagie’s mother and Seshammal had been detained in 1913.

When the Indian passive resistance, Satyagraha  against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act (denounced by the Indian Congress as the “Ghetto Act) was launched in 1946. Thayanayagie joined the resistance, though she had six young children. She spent a month in the Durban and Pietermaritzburg prisons. Her brother-in-law, Sooboo,and mother-in-lawPerumal’s brother, Sooboo and his mother also went to prison in the 1946-48 Indian passive resistance.

Thayanayagie again volunteered during the Campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws in which 8,000 people of all racial origins went to prison after defying racist laws. She was in the batch led by Patrick Duncan, son of a former Governor-General, which entered the Germiston location on 8 December 1952 without permits. Manilal Gandhi and Mosie Moolla, later the African National Congress (ANC) representative in New Delhi for many years, were also in this batch. She was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

In 1956, Thayanayagie joined the march of 20,000 women to Pretoria in 1956 to protest against pass laws.   

For the 1956 treason trial, Thayanayagie got a group of women together and organised meals for the accused. She organised the delivery of food to leaders of the liberation movement who were under trial for treason in 1956. Volunteers collected funds and groceries from merchants, cooked the food and took it to a church near the venue of the trial for the accused at breakfast and lunch. Security police came to her house on several occasions and demanded information about people who provided supplies and funds, and she was once taken to the police station for questioning regarding the provision of food for the men on treason trial lists. But she was not intimidated. In 1959, when the Treason Trial moved to the synagogue in Pretoria, she continued to provide breakfast and lunch daily from 1959 to 1961 when the trial ended.

Thayanayagie was again detained in 1983 for protesting against the participation of the South African Indian Council, a puppet body created by the Apartheid regime,and the imposition of the a new racist constitution and the establishment of the Tricameral Parliament which co-opted Indians and Coloureds.

Thayanayagie (Thailema) Pillay remained a committed activist until the time of her death on19 December 1991.  


E.S.Reddy. (2012). From an email to SAHO, from Mr E S Reddy, dated 30 June 2012.

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