Back to top

Billy Nair (1929 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Billy Nair (1929 - ) Awarded for:
His contribution to the struggle for workers’ rights and for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
Profile of Billy Nair

Billy Nair was born in KwaZulu-Natal on 27 November 1929. As a young man, Nair worked in a local dairy where he was confronted by poor working conditions and extreme exploitation. After being fired for his efforts to organise the workers into a union, he became full-time Secretary of the Dairy Workers’ Union.

The passive resistance campaign between 1946 and 1948 against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representative Act brought home to Nair the need for political action and spurred him to join the Natal Indian Congress.

Meanwhile, Nair’s leadership within the workers’ movement soon saw him elected to the National Executive Committee of the South African Congress of Trade Unions formed in March 1955 with 19 affiliates.

In 1956, Nair was charged, together with 156 other Congress activists, with treason.

When Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed in 1961, Nair was appointed as one of its Natal commanders. After operating underground for two years, he was arrested in July 1963 and charged with sabotage together with 18 others. He received a 20-year sentence, which he served on Robben Island.

Upon his release in February 1984, he became a member of the National Executive Committee of the United Democratic Front. Nair was again detained in Durban in July 1990 under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act, as part of the arrests of Operation Vula operatives.

He was elected as Member of Parliament in the first and second democratic Parliament.