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Interviewee : Govindsamy, Gary

Interviewer : Christian De Vos

Date : 30 May 2002

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CdV: Good morning. My name's Christian de Vos from the Human Sciences Research Council on behalf of the "Voices of Resistance Project" at the University of Durban-Westville Documentation Centre. We're speaking this morning with Gary Govindsamy at the SABC Building in regards to the case of his brother Anamalie Rengasamy, and I'd like to thank you, Mr Govindsamy, for speaking with us this morning.
GG: Pleasure.
CdV: I just want to begin be getting, in your own words, a general sense of where you and your brother grew up, where in Durban you grew up. You can speak a little bit about where you both fell in terms of the order of siblings and what kind of relationship you had, when you were younger.
GG: Basically, my brother is the eldest of seven boys and one girl in our family. We come from a rather poor background, in that my father was working in a sugar field for the Huletts Sugar Company at the time for the Campbell brothers, and we've come a long way where my father would work hard in providing for us. And my brother, as I said, is the eldest of all of us, and at some stage in his life, early, he was a couple of months old, he got very sick and my grandmother, that is my maternal grandmother, took him away to look after him. And that is why you'll find that our surnames are different. We come from a Chetty family in that it is like you have the Govender's and the Moodley's and Chetty's, we belong to the Chetty class, whatever that may mean. And then when he lived with my granny my grandfather had registered him under his name, that is why he's got the name Anamalie Rengasamy as a surname, and I maintained my father's name to get away from the class issues of the day, been fighting the racist policies in this country and that kind of thing. So the surname is still there, that is Chetty's, you'll find some of my brothers will go as Chetty's, I chose the name Govindsamy to get away from this class distinction.
CdV: And now what year was your brother born in?
GG: That's a good one. [laughs] Let's say he's about 4-years older than me, so if I was born in 1957 he would be ... [interruption]
CdV: 53.
GG: ...born in about 1953.
CdV: Okay. And how many - were you directly after him? Or?
GG: Well, he's my eldest brother, and then there's one after
him, and then it's me.
CdV: And your brother, he grew up very much his entire youth with your grandparents? Or did he return home?
GG: The greater part of his life with my grandparents as well as with my mother's brothers. So he regarded my mother as his sister and he called her by her name, he never referred to her as "mother." Only later, well later into his life, he realised that it is indeed his mother and called her 'Ma', but he always referred to her as Amoi, being her first name, or her calling name as such.
CdV: And what kind of a relationship did you have with him then? Did he see you as a brother?
GG: I had a very stern relationship with him. He was a naughty boy in that he liked women, he was a handsome chap, he dressed well, and he read well. So at some stage in his life he became politically aware of what was happening. We schooled for some stage in Chatsworth at Witteklip High School and a very prominent lady in the Black Consciousness struggle was one of his teachers and I suspect as well that she had an influence. She was Strini Moodley's wife [Sam]. Strini Moodley was a Black Consciousness leader together with Saths Cooper and that kind of people, and the Steve Biko clan, and Strini's wife, Sam Moodley, I think, became to a degree his mentor and he chose the Black Consciousness way of life for a long time. Very, very into black politics.
CdV: What age would you say did he come to the Black Consciousness Movement?
GG: I'd say when he was about in Std 7 up until his time, because there was a stage when I was a little boy not so much but aware of the political situation, but he had gone in 1974, I remember, to the Frelimo Rally, the Pro-Frelimo Rally, at the Durban Curry's Fountain, that was the mecca of non-racial football you must remember, and he went there and there was this huge rally. Well, of course I wasn't around then, but I know for a fact that that was the turning point of black consciousness, or black politics in this country, that is the death of- sorry, the Frelimo Rally bringing independence to Mozambique. And he was at a rally in Durban where he was about to be arrested, well he was almost arrested. A prominent leader, Indian leader, had indeed pointed him out as a leader who should be taken away by the Security Police. And he was being taken away by the police when this surge of his comrades on the police forced the police to release him and he ran away.
CdV: I see. And he ran away, he stayed within South Africa, on running away?
GG: Yes, he never left the country. I think as going on he went to - or he got married and he went away from the political field, but keeping in touch with what is happening in the country. So in that sense we could - that is him and I - could speak about politics. Him and I could discuss things.
CdV: What kind of position did he rise to? Did he have a particular rank within the Movement? Was he just an active member?
GG: He didn't have a particular rank, he was an active member. I wouldn't be certain because you must remember at that time we had draconian laws in this country from the Terrorism Act to Internal Security Act, what they called the 30-day detention and 60-days detention and 6-month detention without trial, and many people had done many things very silently, in a very clandestine manner. So nobody knew what others were doing.
CdV: When you say - in what year, if you recall, did he marry?
GG: He married about 1977, I think. 1975.
CdV: Okay, so shortly after this Frelimo Rally you spoke of?
GG: Yes.
CdV: And when he started to move away a bit from the frontline, sort of within the Black Consciousness Movement, what kind of work was he doing?
GG: He was in the shipping companies for a long time because he was a Shipping Clerk. Very intelligent, if I may hold some kind of candle for him, but I did know that, he was an envy of many white people because he knew his job. I know of instances where, he would be given an office and he would teach a white man and no sooner the white man had learnt the stuff the white man would take over his office, which was overlooking the Durban harbour, and he would sit - they would force him to sit in the corridor or in the passage with a desk, I mean, and he taught people. He taught white people who became his boss. I think - and those things actually made him rather bitter. It made me bitter, of course, I mean you just cannot do that. But that was a reality in the old days in this country.
CdV: I'm interested, what kind of - how would you characterise your brother's feelings or identification or lack thereof with the ANC at this time, in terms of the Black Consciousness ideology relative to the ANC?
GG: A great number of people, a great number of leaders, had some Black Consciousness education from many people, from Mandela down to the ordinary activist, had some kind of philosophical background to Black Consciousness and it's only then - it is a means to an end. Black Consciousness is a means to an end and it is a learning process to get into what we call ANC or Charterist politics.
CdV: I see.
GG: So many people have come from Black Consciousness and then moved into other political ideologies, other political parties.
CdV: At the time of his death had your brother moved, would you say, into a different [direction]
GG: I think it's a question of him understanding the political situation of the time. Black Consciousness couldn't go on forever, it was a means to an end and it was an end in itself. And he eventually went - or eventually people would go towards PAC or the ANC, IFP, but the background of Black Consciousness is a platform on which one works.
CdV: You've spoken about your own activism in reference to your brother, where did you stand in terms of your participation in politics?
GG: I was an activist from a long time. I have been very aware of what was happening politically in the country, I read widely although I could never afford a newspaper or our family could never afford a newspaper. I would, when I was living in Chatsworth and going to high school, I used to go to the chap who sells the newspapers on the corner, I would sit for hours on the ground, read the newspaper and give it back to him to sell to somebody else. But in the mean time I had read a great part of the newspaper, mostly political stuff. And I did that for a long time. And I would go to buying newspapers for other people for their homes, but before I left the newspaper in their homes I would read a hell of a lot of the newspaper and then give it to them. I went and bought the newspaper, I'm entitled to read it as well.
CdV: Fair enough.
GG: And I got my political knowledge from that.
CdV: Aha.
GG: And I saw what was happening in the country. I've always been, if I could say, pro-black or non-racial. I come from a situation where my father was a strong National Party supporter because he worked for a long time for the railways of the time and he believed the white man was giving us bread, we can't fight with him. My mother was apolitical, she never knew what's happening, she was an ordinary housewife. But my father believed the white man is God because he's giving us food, he gave us shelter.
CdV: What kind of a dimension did that add to your family life?
GG: The other members of my family ... [interruption]
CdV: Were your other siblings as active as ... [interruption]
GG: Not really. As I say, I had other members of my family who were apolitical, they were not interested in the political situation, although they were aware of politics. But I had a more prominent role in politics and that of course irked my father because I never was at home. I was always out, trying to mobilise people, trying to help people but picking up issues affecting our people and politicising them.
CdV: Did he - was he supportive nonetheless of what you did, or was there a constant ... [interruption]
GG: I remember in 1976 during the Soweto uprisings I was an activist in my school as well ... [interruption]
CdV: This is in Chatsworth?
GG: In Chatsworth, at Westcliff High School, and during that time, when Soweto was burning we heard about it and some of us in school had got together and we painted slogans on the wall on Sunday evening. We all got together and we painted slogans on the wall, we got into serious trouble for that, we were almost expelled. I had to call my mother to come to school and apologise and eventually we had to clean up that. The Principal forced us to clean it up, he wanted the school back in order, it was a model school, he was a model Principal. I think he understood what we were doing was right but because of the political situation and because the position he was in he was obliged to take action against us. But the only action that was taken against us was indeed forced to clean the school and return it to a normal state. When the Security Police came in when they heard about that the Principal told the Security Police, “No, we will handle the matter, it's an internal matter', and I was quite startled by that.
CdV: You were?
GG: So my political career, if you can call it, started more so in 1976.
CdV: Would you say your brother's activism had an impact on your own conscientizing?
GG: Not really. To a degree yes, but not wholly. His activism started early, he would have been far more militant than I was but it died off, his militancy, his politics died off and I took over. And I continued being an activist, and I was if I may so say myself, quite a name in the community. Of course I used to be quoted by newspapers, I was involved in the community, for civic affairs to welfare activities to football. But that was a stepping stone to consceintise people.
CdV: Did you see - the start of your journalism career when did that begin and was that to some degree an outgrowth of your activism?
GG: No. I worked as a waiter, I worked selling ice creams on the beach front, I was abused by white people on the beachfront, selling ice creams, they call you names and derogatory names because you're selling ice creams. But that was a way for me to move forward, it was a job I needed, money I needed. And then I started work on the railways for 6-months as a labourer, earning R90 per month. And then I was offered a job, at the same time I was an activist in Phoenix, when we moved to Phoenix. I continued activism, would leave in the dark in the morning to go to work, walk a long way to work from the Durban Station, take the train, and go to work at the workshop called Shop 17, right down on the Point, and when I returned home first thing I would do is just come and make sure my mother sees me and I'm back on the street mobilising people, doing work out there. And we worked with people like Pravin Gordhan, Jay Naidoo, MJ Naidoo from the Natal Indian Congress, and many people, Valli Moosa, and we worked very hard in politicising and conscientising people in Phoenix.
CdV: So you were a member of the Natal Indian Congress?
GG: I wasn't a fully-fledged member but I was actively involved in Congress. I used to even sit in their Executive Committee meetings.
CdV: Okay, and your brother, was he, no?
GG: He never was. By then he had faded away from politics, he'd had a family too.
CdV: In the year, roughly let's say the year prior to his death, what kind of relationship did you have with your brother? Did you stay in regular communication with him?
GG: He used to frequent my house, he used to leave his son with my mother, my mother used to look after his son.
CdV: This is his son, Terence?
GG: Terence.
CdV: Okay.
GG: And basically I used to look after Terence as well, from washing his napkins, taking him around, he would go with nobody else but me, he wouldn't even go with his father, he would prefer to be with me. I would take him around and everything was Terence and me and look after him, feed him, take care of him, raised him into a big boy basically. And then when his parents died he elected to stay with us.
CdV: I see.
GG: Of course there was a whole lot of problems among the families about that, but - as to who wanted to look after him - and eventually he stayed with us.
CdV: I'm going to turn to the bombing, and if we could just start by in your own words taking the train. Take us back to that day when you found out what had happened, how information came to you, who might have been responsible.
GG: Perhaps I should start 2-days before that, it was a Sunday, the 1st of April in that fateful year. I was in the area in our district, in Phoenix, and there was a raid on a gambling school by police. And I was nearby and the police came over and because I was an activist in area the police hated my guts. Police came along, put a gun at my head and said, 'Don't move'. They arrested all those people because they were gambling illegally. And they marched us, me together with all those gamblers, to the police station and my mother heard about it. So my father and my brother, Daya Anamalay, had gone to look for me, but the police prolonged taking us to the police station for about 5-hours, and we were in the back of a police van. And he came to look for me and he couldn't find me, he went to the police station with my father and nothing happened. And when the police eventually reached the police station in this big police van, the police were very frustrated as to their job and the police assaulted me, and they assaulted me quite badly. These policemen took me outside and they bashed me up and I couldn't fight him back because there was another policeman with a machine gun standing next to me, guarding this policeman who was assaulting me and the assault continued. So the following day I went to my brother to tell him what had happened, and that was on a Monday. So I walked to his house and I explained the situation to him. I had a drink at his house and his wife gave me a few bites, and I left. The following morning I went to classes, I was studying journalism at Natal Technikon and then we heard about this blast and we thought nothing about it. But during that morning at about 11 o'clock I went to see MJ Naidoo from the Natal Indian Congress, he was a friend of mine as well as being a political mentor. He picked on me, he says, 'Hey, you go and plant a bomb there and you come here now quietly. What's happening?' And so we just joked about it. And when I went back to class after a few hours I said to a friend of mine, a colleague of mine, I said, 'Let's go and take some photographs at the bomb site'. So when we got there I took some photographs, I saw what was happening and I was driving back with this lady, it's a colleague of mine, towards the Esplanade when I saw another group of people standing on the Esplanade and I enquired as to what was happening there. That was not far from where my brother worked because he had parked his car on the Esplanade and walked with his wife towards - when this bomb had exploded. When I stopped there and I enquired as to what was happening they told me there's a bomb scare in the building, The Durban Bay House, so I didn't care much about it and I was about to drive off and somebody stopped me and said, 'Hey, hang on, where are you going to?' I said, 'No, I'm going back to college'. They said, 'No, hang on, your sister-in-law was injured in the blast. Please go quickly to Addington Hospital. But we can't find your brother'. I said, 'No, it can't be', but they persuaded me to go to Addington Hospital. So I rushed over to Addington Hospital and not realising that something dastardly had happened. And I put my camera on my shoulder and I walked into Addington Hospital and I enquired of some people but nobody wanted to tell me what had happened until a Sister came to me and said, 'Listen, hang on, your sister-in-law died in the bomb and we can't find your brother. We don't know where your brother is'. I was shocked. I tried to phone from the call box. I phoned everywhere, from my office where I worked part-time to home, to the doctors, to every home and every phone was engaged. And eventually I got through to my office and the secretary there said, 'Listen, where are you?'. I said, 'I'm at the hospital.' 'Do you know what happened?'. I said, 'Yes'. She said, 'I don't know how to tell you this'. I said, 'No, never mind, I know what happened'. I went out, I took this girl, I left her in town and I rushed home. And by the time I got home there were hordes of people there already, but my family had been trying in the meantime to find me and they couldn't find me because I was at college and there was no communication. And my mother was - well, she was in a bad state. But then they realised that my brother already died and they were killed together in this bomb. And Security Police came there to confirm certain things, and it went on like that. The newspapers were there even before I knew about it, and we had to make some statements. And then I spoke in confidence, if I may say, with one of the reporters about my brother's political involvement and my brother's political stands. And he printed that. When he printed that I was in serious problems with my family because how could I betray my brother? 'Black people killed your brother and you're saying that your brother was an activist and here's the irony now'. And then I had to stand by that, it was a political decision to stand by that. But my family was totally against that, that I had - they said to me I was - not only my family but other people said I had betrayed my brother by making those statements. I eventually laid the blame of that bomb on PW Botha's hands because PW Botha was indeed the President at the time, and I said, 'The time has come for the government of the day to meet with the ANC to solve these problems. We can't have more people dying. Let my brother's death be a means to get the ANC and the government of the day to discuss issues to bring about peace in this country'.
CdV: At any point did you believe that your brother had been a target of the bomb? Did you?
GG: Not really. I think the target was somebody else, or another building perhaps, a bridge perhaps, the soldiers perhaps, an army barracks.
CdV: Have you ever, just to jump ahead, have you ever found out exactly what the target was?
GG: We heard quite a few rumours. Rumours were that they were - the bombers were heading for the then Indian Affairs Building which was directly across where the incident happened. We heard also that every day at about half-past-seven an army truck goes past and that they were targeting the soldiers and this army truck which was going past. We also heard that the bomb was set off to go off at a certain time but that the people who were about to set the bomb off missed the time and abandoned the vehicle there to get away from the blast.
CdV: I see. At what point did you come to know that the bomb that was laid had been laid by the ANC's armed wing?
GG: I had no doubt that the bomb was indeed an ANC bomb.
CdV: From the beginning?
GG: From the beginning. Because the ANC had gone on a terror campaign so I didn't believe that anybody else but the ANC had committed the offence.
CdV: And at one point - well, I'm looking at an article that was written at this time, it said:
"The couple were the first Indian victims to die in a bomb blast in this country."
Was that an issue that newspapers brought attention to around the time of the funeral?
GG: They were indeed the first Indian victims to have died in a bomb. But they were the first victims to have died in Durban. First victims, irrespective of the colour or the race.
CdV: In Durban?
GG: In Durban. Because you must remember that there never were soft targets. It was always buildings, it was always a bridge. But in this instance it was soft targets.
CdV: It was a soft target. Right. How do you feel about that, knowing that ... [interruption]
GG: As I said ... [interruption]
CdV: ...it was against the principle, ostensibly, of hard targets and monuments and such?
GG: Of course when people get killed you feel for the family and the people who get killed, but you must understand that at the time there was a war. There was a war between people who wanted to see a fair and just system in the country and I believed that had it not been members of my family who were killed it could have been anybody else. I don't believe that - or perhaps I should say it was a question of tit for tat. The South African Army was raiding other parts of the subcontinent, of Southern Africa, and they were killing people willy-nilly, and what the ANC was doing was they believed that they had to do something to get the white system in this country to open their eyes and their minds into going for full negotiations, or other people would die.
CdV: In the newspapers I read shortly after the incident:
"The African National Congress decided to neither admit or deny responsibility for the Durban bomb blast which killed three people. And a spokesman said that Mr Rengasamy's death was regretted but that it should be accepted innocent people would die in the struggle for the cause."
First of all, I'm wondering what your opinion was of the ANC's position that they would neither admit nor deny.
GG: I was not shocked at that response. I'm certain that the ANC made that statement only because I had made certain statements. There is no doubt in my mind that the ANC had planted that bomb. But because of certain statements I made, saying that my brother was involved in politics, he was fighting a black cause, and ironically he died, the fact that I laid blame on PW Botha and the National Party Government for the atrocity and the fact that I called for the ANC and the South African government to come to a truce on this matter and to stop this war, to come to some kind of dialogue, caused the ANC to withdraw I believe the statement they had made, because they were put in a horrible position that they were killing their own people.
CdV: Right.
GG: And that was why they did what they did.
CdV: At the time were you able to understand that or were you angry that they wouldn't take responsibility for what you knew?
GG: I think it was they did a very diplomatic thing by withdrawing their statement. As I said, there is no doubt they did it but I can understand from their point why they did what they did.
CdV: You can understand now, could you understand then as well?
GG: As I said, I was an activist then and I believed people would die in the struggle. At the time of this incident I didn't - I was not emotional when I made those statements. I made those statements thinking about them carefully, so I made those statements with a clear thought. Remember, I was politically active at the time.
CdV: Many of the other articles at that time spoke about the State as a target for terrorists and the government, the ruling party, was speaking about how this incident should be a catalyst to root out terrorists threat to South Africa. How did you feel about when you read articles at the time that was using the situation, the atrocity of your brother's death, as a way of political advantage?
GG: Just repeat that.
CdV: I'm interested in how the situation, your brother's death, it seems that in many of the articles it was being used as political advantage, particularly by the National Party Government and how did that feel? How did that affect you?
GG: I understand totally that there are people who are politically hungry for power. The National Party wanted to break up the entire country, they wanted to show the Indian community here, 'Listen, you can't trust a black man. They are killers'. They wanted to woo people on their side, they wanted a power base, they wanted to woo the Indians onto their side. We've got a puppet like Rajbansi who was in the system. Of course he will take credit, he will say that he was indeed a target. The ANC could have gone to his house with snipers and shot him, why would they want to blow up a building when he wasn't there? Why would they kill innocent people? Okay, ironically my brother and his wife and another lady died, but that's a politician you cannot trust, Rajbansi, and he was taking political mileage out of my brother's death. I was most horrified at that, but I know Rajbansi, I know his political stance and he will sell anything to get power. I'm not surprised at all.
CdV: Did you make your distaste know at the time of the incident or did you accept that as inevitable result of the situation?
GG: I'm saying that the politicians were climbing on the bandwagon, I'm saying that they would use anything to get political mileage, and I know Rajbansi personally as a political foe and I know how he works, so I'm not surprised at that.
CdV: Just interested in when you came - the statement you made about laying the blame on PW Botha and his government, was that immediately after the blast on the 4th?
GG: I think it was a day or two later.
CdV: Okay, so it was a very short time period we're talking about. Okay. Were you in the statements you made - were other members of your family speaking to the Press?
GG: No, they were not speaking to the Press. As I said, they were horrified by my statements to the Press. They felt that I shouldn't say what I said. The fact that I made those statements condemning the government, condemning the National Party Government, condemning PW Botha, had indeed created a situation where my family had got no monetary gain from the governing party. There was a State President's Fund that was organised and we never got a single cent from that. We didn't get a single cent only because of those statements I made.
CdV: That's where I just want to turn briefly. I read in the TRC Report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, that the family was refused compensation from the President's Victims of Terrorism Fund because of his statement. 'His' being your statements. Okay, so this was a - could you just backtrack a bit on the fund? What this was established for?
GG: The fund was established to help victims of atrocities of this nature.
CdV: Okay.
GG: And victims were given some monies to restart their life, or for burial of their family, for other medical expenses and that kind of thing. And they never gave us anything.
CdV: I see.
GG: They never gave us anything.
CdV: Did you expect that? Were you surprised by that?
GG: I wasn't surprised by that, but it shows how they behave, it shows what they believe in.
CdV: I'm going to stop here and turn the tape over.