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