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Dr K Goonam (Kesaveloo Goonaaruthnum Naidoo)

The late Dr K Goonam (Kesaveloo Goonaruthnum Naidoo), was one of the early Indian women to qualify as a doctor. A well-known activist, her story is told by her daughter, Vanitha Chetty. Vanitha recalls her mother’s early life in Riverside, Durban, her stay in England and Edinburgh where she completed her medical training. The inherent racism in South Africa, exposed her to treating lower class White patients and during one of her visits a child remarked “oh mummy, the coolie doctor is here”, a name she now inherits.

In 1946, the Government instituted the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act whereby Indians were to be segregated forcefully into ‘Group Areas’ and were to be given Communal and not complete Franchise. The Natal Indian Congress under the leadership of Monty Naicker and Yusuf Dadoo, rallied Indians together to protest against this obnoxious Act – the result of which was the re-knowned Passive Resistance of 1946 when many men and women engaged in acts of defiance against the laws by occupying lands designated ‘White’ and holding so-called illegal meetings. Batch after batch willfully courted imprisonment and Dr K Goonam was one of such volunteers. She was imprisoned many times for her political beliefs.

In court she said “ I plead guilty and ask the court to impose the maximum sentence permitted by law. ….. In occupying the resistance camp I was protesting against that oppressive and pernicious law recently enacted against my people who had no part in framing it. The Act spells disaster, ruin and a state of semi-serfdom to our people who contributed greatly to the prosperity of this country. South Africa we are reminded frequently, is a democratic country…. I am here to vindicate this interpretation of democracy. “

As a member of the Natal Indian Congress, she was elected vice-president and later Acting President.

Constant harassment from the Security Branch forced Dr Goonam to leave South Africa for England and she lived in exile thereafter. She traveled to Australia and then to Zimbabwe from whence she came to South Africa. In her interview, Dr Vanitha Chetty also talks on the new found democracy in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), HIV Aids and her mothers social life.

Compiled by K. Chetty