Chanderdeo George Sewpershad (1936 - 2007)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Chanderdeo George Sewpershad
George Sewpershad was born in Cato Manor, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal on 7 October 1936. He was an outstanding political leader, civil rights activist and humanitarian.
In 1956, Sewpershad joined the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) at the age of 20 and became an active member. After the crackdown on liberation movements in the 1960s, he was one of the leaders in the revival of the NIC in 1971. He was involved in the United Democratic Front (UDF) and campaigned fearlessly against apartheid injustices. He was part of a group that fought for the unbanning of the African National Congress and for the release of political prisoners.
Sewpershad was inspired by the Freedom Charter’s promise that ”there shall be houses, security and comfort” and he supported the struggles of communities for civic rights. From the early resistance to Group Areas Act removals, to the later campaigns against high rents and rates, Sewpershad helped to mobilise communities from Chatsworth, Phoenix, Sydenham, Merebank, Wentworth, Newlands, Durban Central, Isipingo, Verulam, Tongaat and Stanger. These efforts galvanised around the formation of an umbrella civic body, the Durban Housing Action Committee, in 1980, of which he was the founding patron. During this period, he was served with a second banning order.
In 1980, the Verulam Legal Circle honoured him with an award for being the longest serving lawyer in Verulam. In 1983, the UDF in Natal elected him as vice-president, serving with Archie Gumede as president.
Under Sewpershad’s leadership, NIC activists worked closely with sport, civic and cultural organisations, promoting the values of unity and non-racialism. Civic struggles became more militant and oppositional to the local apartheid state in areas such as Phoenix and Chatsworth. A major campaign was the rejection of sham autonomy in Phoenix in 1979. Sewpershad was one of a team of lawyers who represented civic and other organisations at the Commission of Inquiry into the autonomy proposal, which was successfully opposed. In Chatsworth, the organisations campaigned against the City Council’s intention to sell council-built homes to residents at market-related prices.
In 1984, Sewpershad was charged with treason together with 15 leaders from all over the country. The detainees included, among others, Archie Gumede, Frank Chikane, Albertina Sisulu, Cassim Saloojee and Curtis Nkondo.
In 2007, he was posthumously awarded the Satyagraha Award by the Gandhi Development Trust for Outstanding Humanitarian Services. The George Sewpershad Multimedia Centre was opened at Trenance Manor Secondary School in Phoenix by the Deputy Minister of Communications, Mr Roy Padayachee. The Reservoir Hills Primary Healthcare Clinic was also named after him.
Throughout the bannings, arrests, detention without trial and treason charges, Sewpershad maintained a quiet dignity and conducted himself in the most exemplary and disciplined manner. He did not seek the limelight, but was prepared to step forward during one of the most repressive periods in South Africa’s history.