Indres Naidoo: communist, anti-apartheid campaigner, friend.

Nelson Mandela Freedom March, Glasgow, 12th June 1988

Indres Naidoo was special.   People will be able to gather that from all the obituaries that they have seen and read.   His commitment to the struggle against apartheid was unquestionable.   He gave his life to that struggle, and made great sacrifices in the process.

He is known in the UK because of his book, about imprisonment on Robben Island, called “Island in Chains”.   It is a deeply moving book, revealing the daily humiliations suffered by the prisoners and how, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and the others, they slowly but surely subverted the prison system, forcing their warders to respect them.

It was also a book that gave members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, throughout the world, an insight into the struggle which was far beyond our experience, as we had not been arrested and imprisoned in a South African gaol.   It also revealed to us something about the experience of being black in apartheid South Africa which most of us, because we were white, found difficult to understand.   In many ways, it was for us a seminal book.   It was always on our book stalls and our recommended reading lists.   It was a book that helped to mobilise thousands against apartheid.   It was a book that helped to change the world.

But for some of us in the UK, Indres was more than an inspirational writer.  He was seconded by the ANC from their East German Office to the Nelson Mandela Freedom March in 1988.   This was the march organised by the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1988 to celebrate the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela, and to demand the release of all South African and Namibian political prisoners.   It also called for the independence of Namibia, the imposition of sanctions against apartheid and the end of the apartheid system.

For those of us who joined this march from Glasgow to London, it was a privilege to march alongside Indres Naidoo.   He was inspirational.   His dedication to the struggle was infectious.   His good humour helped to keep us on our feet, literally so, on some occasions.

The march was long and tiring.   Even those of us who had, sensibly, trained to walk several hundred miles found it so.   People injured their ankles, calves, knees or thighs, in some cases permanently.   It was usually Indres who led us off each morning with the cry of “Amandla Awethu” [Power to the People], and kept us going by telling stories to whoever was marching within earshot alongside him.

I do not wish to over-emphasise the importance of the Nelson Mandela Freedom March.   That will be for others to judge in years to come.   It was, however, part of a campaign that helped to mobilise millions in the UK in the struggle against apartheid.   Indres made his special contribution to that mobilisation by the way that he worked to encourage the marchers on a daily basis.   That is a contribution that should not be forgotten.

Indres’ political commitment derived from his lifelong membership of the South African Communist Party.   It was this, coupled with his anger about apartheid, that gave him the willingness and commitment to enter the struggle.   It was this that kept him involved despite everything that the apartheid state threw against him.

Indres Naidoo was a remarkable man.   I am proud to have known him, and to have worked alongside him in the struggle against apartheid.

Hamba Kahle, Indres.   Hamba Kahle!!!

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