Dr Gagathura Mohambry Naicker (1910 - 1978)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Dr Gagathura Mohambry Naicker
Dr Gagathura Mohambry Naicker, affectionately known as ’Monty’, was born in Durban on 30 September 1910. He attended primaryschool in Durban at Marine College, and in 1927 headed to Britain to complete secondary school, after which he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He soon took an interest in the political issues of the day. Before long, he was elected to the Students’ Representative Council. He became a member of the Edinburgh Indian Association and was editor of the association’s handbookfrom 1932 to 1934.
After qualifying as a doctor, Naicker returned to South Africa in 1934 and set up a practice. He never concealed his intentions to become involved in the struggle for freedom and said as much in a speech during a ceremony to welcome him back from Britain.
He gained much first-hand knowledge of the living conditions of the Indian people through his medical practice. Naicker identified himself with Indian social welfare organisations, and was elected President of the Hindu Youth Club in Durban in 1935.
Naicker became President of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in October 1945. More than 10 000 people attended the meeting where he was elected. In the NIC, Naicker developed impeccably progressive credentials, and frowned upon compromises with the status quo.
Like many other anti-apartheid activists, he had a stint in jail for six months for his involvement in the passive resistance campaign in 1946 against new legislation restricting Indians’ land tenure rights.
In 1947, Naicker was a signatory to the Xuma-Naicker-Dadoo (Three Doctors) pact for co-operation between the African National Congress, the Natal Indian Congress and the Transvaal Indian Congress. Soon after, he toured India with Dr Yusuf Dadoo, and met Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Mohammed Jinnah and others. He was again sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour on 26 February,1948, during the second phase of the Passive Resistance Campaign and jailed again for a month in 1952 after leading the first batch of Natal resisters as part of the Defiance Campaign.
Naicker was twice president of the South African Indian Congress and soon became a key figure in the Congress Alliance. He was an accused in the Treason Trial between 1956 and 1961, but was acquitted and then spent five months underground during the 1960 state of emergency, disguised as a Moslem imam. The apartheid regime served Naicker with banning orders in 1954, prohibiting him from attending meetings. However, he remained president of the NIC until more stringent five-year banning orders were imposed in 1963 and 1968.
When the banning orders expired in 1973, Naicker began addressing meetings as usual, despite the risks of doing so. He believed in non-violence and was a follower of Gandhi right to the end. He was also a close personal friend of Chief Albert Luthuli. His life was dedicated to service and he was greatly respected for his sacrifices and integrity. Naicker was jailed eight times, and banned for a total of 14 years, spending several years as an accused in the Treason Trial.
Dr Gagathura Mohambry Naicker was a farsighted anti-apartheid activist who could have led a very comfortable life as a medical doctor but chose instead to wage a principled struggle against apartheid injustices. In the course of fighting for justice in South Africa, he added to the momentum for political change that created conditions for the final overthrow of the apartheid regime.
He died on 12 January 1978, at the age of 67, after a short illness, leaving his wife, Marie Apavoo, who also led demonstrators in the Defiance Campaign, and two children.