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Interviewee : Neela and Leo Naidu (parents of Lenny Naidu)

Interviewer : Vino Reddy

Date : 31 May 2002

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Interview (excerpt)

VR: Good morning, I'm Vino Reddy and we are here today at the home of Mr and Mrs Naidu, parents of Lenny Naidu. Mrs Naidu, thank you for allowing us your time.
NN: You're most welcome.
VR: Let me just tell you that we are from the Documentations Centre of the University of Durban-Westville and Christian is from the Human Sciences Research Council. We'd like to ask you something about Lenny. Tell us a little bit about him when he was young, Mrs Naidu.
NN: Oh, he was a very charming boy, ever ready to help anyone that needs his help. Always respectful and he regarded everybody as his parents, his neighbours, and any time anyone wanted anything. We lived in a very small house and he was prepared to help anyone and he was a very brilliant student. He was in primary school here, Fairhaven Primary, then to Chatsworth High, from there then he went to UDW. And that's - we did not have much money because Mr Naidu was the only person working and he would help me to do everything what he can do. I used to work and by the time I'll come from work he'll see to his two sisters, he'll cook the rice and wait ready for me to come. I used to take the train and I used to come.
Sometimes there used to be train power failures. I used to get off in, eh, Havenside and walk along the railway line. By the time I get here it used to be very dark, especially winter time. Come, he'll be holding his two sisters and sitting. As soon as I come he'll say, 'Ma, the rice is cooked'. At that time we did not have a geyser, he'll get my bath water, I'll have my bath, I come, I'll prepare the food, I'll give them. Then he'll talk about his school things what he has to do, then he will get into his room. He'll sit and he will study.
In the mornings he will get up, he'll say, 'Ma, don't worry if you don't have anything good for lunch'. I'll say, 'No, you must take lunch', then I will make whatever I've got. He was not a fussy child, he was such a child that he was in for anything. And then when he went to 'varsity’ my husband will give him his pocket money. He will never use the pocket money, he will come back and he will buy bread and milk with that money.
Carried on his last year of his BA he was doing. He was - I think he was in the ANC, that I did not know. And he used to take me to meetings, wherever they had meetings, and at that time I didn't know what was politics that much, right?
VR: What year are we talking about, Mrs Naidu? Do you remember what year this was?
NN: Yes.
VR: What year was this?
NN: This was in '82. Right! In '82 they were having a lot of meetings around here, then he'll tell me, 'Ma, come with me, I want you to open up a prayer'.
VR: Were these public meetings?
NN: Public meetings. Public meetings, then I used to go. One day I came home and I told him, 'If you're in the ANC I don't want to talk to you'. You know he didn't talk to me. 'If you are in the ANC I don't want to talk to you because you took me there and I see all these people were there'. He didn't talk to me. I couldn't take it because he was such a loving child and I said, 'Okay, alright, come, let us sit and talk but don't talk about the meeting, talk about your school'. Then he will say how he took - he used to run, I hear, if he misses the college bus, the varsity bus he will run and he'll get off and he'll walk and his friends will say, 'Lenny, be careful, it's dark'. He will tell them, 'Be careful, there's a centerpede on the road. Do not kill that centerpede, be careful, jump over that thing and walk'. They will come home late at night because they missed the bus.
When he got involved in this thing then he was the member of BRA.
VR: That would be the Bayview?
NN: No, Bayview Residents Association, he was a member of that, so he was the secretary there. He had a tape recorder here, he used to do all the taping and he had the key of the post office, Chatsworth Post Office, and he had the key. And he used to go bring the papers.
It was in '86 the police came. At that time I was in India, I wasn't at home, I was in India. They came and they rattled the house, looked for whatever they can find, they took the tape recorder, whatever papers he had from the BRA, all that they took.
VR: Was Lenny at home then?
NN: No, he was a 'varsity at that time, during the day they came in that time. So when he came home when he heard this then he - I'd just arrived … then my daughter told me, 'Oh, Ma, you know what happened like this?' I say, 'Now what happened?'. Then they told me, 'No, you know what, this is what happened. They came and took all Lenny's papers, they took the tape recorder and all'.
Then Lenny went hiding. He was hiding in his friend's house. Then when he came home that night I asked him, 'Tell me, what is all this about?' He told me, 'Ma', I said, 'Why did the cops come and raid the house? What are they looking for?' He says to me, 'Nothing, they only want my brains'. He said that, then after that he went into hiding. He wrapped up his clothes, then he went. I said, 'Boy, you're going, you know what you're heading for?' He said, 'Ma'... I said, 'They'll kill you, my darling'. He said, 'Ma, I die, I die one time. What I am fighting for you don't know'. He took his clothes wrapped up and he ran. He went away.
In '86, in September, the police came. Every time they will come and ransack the house, they will raid the house. They will look for him inside, outside, everywhere they will go. Then they will come and ask me, 'Where is he?' I say, 'I don't know where he is'. For true, I did not know where he was. Then they tapped my phone. They will phone, I know from where the cops will phone and ask, 'Lenny came home?' I say, 'No, he didn't'. Then I told them, I used to tell them, 'One of his friends phoned and asked where he is, I said ‘I don't know where he is'. I said you know when the cops come they swear me, they say I'm not a good mother to bring up the child, I brought up the child the wrong way. Then they took all the particulars down.
And in '86 when he went away he called me. He was at my son's house in Isipingo Beach. I went there, I said, 'What is all this, man? Such a good boy, so nice, you're so intelligent, what you doing boy?' He says, 'Ma, don't worry. They don't want anything, they only want my brains. They want to know what I've got inside, that's why the cops want me'. Then he said, 'Look, I am going'. I didn't know where he's going, I didn't know what was that going to. I said, 'Where are you going?' and he called his father, called me. We went. I said, 'You know, Lenny, what you're doing is not a good thing, boy'.
Then he called his father, his father cried. Well, he knows, you see he didn't want to tell me what is that. He cried. Then he said, 'I'm going, don't worry, I'll be okay'. He went. That was in '86.
VR: Can I just stop you there for a minute? Had he completed his degree?
NN: His last paper he wrote and he got through. I'm looking for the Certificate, I don't know where this children put that thing.
LN: Probably took it with him.
NN: No, he didn't take that. He didn't take it. His particulars he took away but his Certificate, when he just finished, he didn't write the last paper.
LN: He didn't complete it, he just... [inaudible]
NN: Yes. When he just finished then they sent a letter to say so many papers he got through and he's still got this one more paper to write.
VR: Okay, continue, Mrs Naidu.
NN: Then he went away. In '88 ... [intervention]
VR: The last thing you mentioned was 1986.
NN: Ja, '86 he left.
VR: Is that when he left the country?
NN: He left home.
VR: He left home?
NN: He left home, I don't know where he left.
VR: You didn't know where he went?
NN: No, I did not know. And there were some of his friends, they used to come and tell me so many things, 'Oh, we saw him, he has got long beard, long hair, you won't recognise him. He's gone thin'. And he was a vegetarian. He couldn't take what they used to give him to eat, I hear, where they were.
VR: And you still didn't know where he was?
NN: No, I didn't know.
VR: The friends never told you?
NN: No, they didn't tell me.
VR: Do you remember who it was who came and saw you? Which friends?
NN: It was Kumar [Kummi Naidoo] and Kovin [Naidoo]. They came and told me he is okay and all that. But in the very beginning before he can go when I asked these boys, 'Can I send - looks like Lenny has got a lot of problems here, can I send him away to overseas?' I told right, these boys said, 'No, no, no, don't do that, leave him. He know what he is doing. Don't do that', and that's when I left.
And in '86 as I told you, he left home. We did not hear from him, nothing. Then in '88 ... [interruption]
VR: Can I just ask you, between '86 and '88 you never got even - you didn't get one phone call?
NN: No, nothing.
VR: You never heard from him in any way, not by letter?
NN: No, nothing.
VR: Messages?
NN: No. Nothing, nothing at all. Nothing.
VR: What you did hear was what his friends told you about their observations of him?
NN: Yes.
VR: Okay.
NN: I used to pray but in '88 I got a message. He was killed on June 8th, right?
VR: Yes.
NN: I only got the message on the 21st of June. It was about half-past-eight, Richard phoned me. Right. Then my daughter, Amshah, picked the phone up. He told her, 'You know what? Your brother is killed in an ambush in Lusaka'. Then they asked - well, we had to contact lawyers and see what we can do. The lawyer asked, 'Who's going to come and identify the body?' I said, 'I will come'.
VR: Which lawyer was this, Mrs Naidu? Do you remember?
NN: Daya Pillay.
VR: Daya Pillay. Okay.
NN: Naidu and I, both of us, we went. First day when I went, when I saw the way the bodies were put on top of the other, and all that ... [interruption]
VR: Where was this place?
NN: In Piet Retief, in the mortuary we went to see. And as we were entering the whole of that place was smelling because so many days and the thing wasn't very frozen too. The bodies were just thrown, it smells, you can't stand over there. The bodies were all decomposed. And then so I said, 'No, it's not Lenny'. Daya and Sarojini Pillay, she's also a lawyer, they knew him, they are talking amongst themselves.
VR: They were with you at the time?
NN: Yes, they were with me.
VR: Who else in your family was with you, Mrs Naidu?
NN: Only both of us.
VR: You and Mr Naidu. Okay.
NN: And we came up halfway that something is telling, 'No, that's Lenny'. In my mind I'm saying, 'Even if it's not Lenny, if I tell I don't know and they're going to give him a paupers burial'. I asked these two people,'Can I say that's him and take the body and give that child a good burial?' They said, 'Yes, aunty, you better do that'.
And the following morning I went up again to Piet Retief. I went there and this time they put Lenny's body separate. It wasn't with all the other bodies.
VR: How many other bodies were there, Mrs Naidu?
NN: 9-bodies.
VR: Nine?
NN: Nine, 9-bodies were there. And I then went I prayed to God because he had a mark over here ... [interruption]
VR: A birthmark?
NN: No, he just had a mark here. I don't know, I think he must have scratched himself.
VR: You knew that mark?
NN: I knew that. So now I go, he had his neck like this and I saw, I said, 'Ja, that's Lenny'.
Came home and they didn't want to give the body quickly because they gave me a Government Gazette now how many people must come to the funeral and nobody, they had policemen surrounding the house and all that.
Anyway, on the 2nd of July we got the body.
VR: 2nd of July.
NN: Then we took it here to the Temple Hall. From there the police were surrounded, machine guns, they had helicopter and the graveyard was what they called cordoned, right round they didn't let anyone go inside. But then the Africans from the other townships, they all came in, about 25 bus loads. They came, they jumped over the walls of the graveyard, they came and the Brigadier from the thing, he came down, he wanted - they put an ANC cloth on the coffin, he wanted that cloth. Now these people don't want to give the cloth. I told these people, 'What you all fighting for that piece? Give it to him'. Then he took that cloth. He stood there, the noise that helicopter was making we couldn't have the last rites, and they were chasing all the people from there.
With all that, although we all came away, the Africans stayed behind. They covered the, you know, they buried the coffin and all, they were toyi-toying over there, I hear, and then we came home. They all came here, they had supper with me … like Cyril Ramaphosa - it was Cyril, eh? Terror Lekota, he was here. He was in and out, they were toyi-toying, singing, and that's how Lenny's life came to an end.