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BILLY 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