NAIR (MP) - (1929- )
Billy Nair was born in Sydenham (Durban)
on 27 November 1929. After his matriculation, he began his university
education whilst on Robben Island. Initially, he was employed
as a bookkeeper and later in a dairy in Durban from which he
was soon fired due to his trade union activities. In 1951 he
became a full time secretary of the Dairy Workers Union.
As a trade unionist he believed in multi-racialism
and worked with persons of all colours. In his interview he
highlights issues such as the prevailing labour laws, job reservation,
unfair labour practices to workers in the mines, farms and industry.
He talks of the exploiters and the exploited, of segregation
and apartheid in the railways stations, parks and lifts.
Nair’s political awareness began
during his college years and later increased during the Passive
Resistance Campaign of 1946. In the interview he recalls the
rallies that took place at the Red Square (now the Nicol Square
Garage) against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation
Act (1946), whereby Indians were to be forcefully removed from
so-called White areas and in return be given representation
in parliament by three White representatives. This was rejected
by the leadership (under Monty Naicker and Yusuf Dadoo). Indians,
therefore, engaged in a series of acts of defiance by occupying
land in White areas and courting imprisonment. The Passive Resistance
Campaign that ensued saw hundreds of Indians hauled into jails.
In 1949, Nair joined the Natal Indian
Youth Congress and became its secretary in 1950. He also joined
the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and served as a member of its
executive committee in the 1952 Defiance Campaign called by
the Congress Movement. In his interview, he recalls the 1952
Defiance Campaign, the many acts of defiance against segregation,
the pass laws and the Group Areas Act. He also recalls the events
leading up to the Congress of the People, the Freedom Charter
and the Kliptown Conference.
Nair was active in the Umkonto We Sizwe
(Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the ANC, since its
inception. He recalls Chief Albert Luthuli’s return to
South Africa after receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace and the
subsequent launching of Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1960. His participation
in various acts of sabotage led to his eventual arrest in 1963.
He recalls the famous Treason Trials of the 1950’s and
1960’s in which he was one of the accused for Treason
under the Suppression of Communism Act. He received a 20 year
sentence which he served on Robben Island. He recalls the police
torture and the difficult and unbearable life in the prison
cells and on Robben Island.
On his release, he became active in
the United Democratic Front (UDF), the sit-in protests at the
British Consulate, and in Operation Vula. After the 1994 elections
Nair became a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly
of the South African Parliament.
Compiled by K. Chetty 22 June 2004