Last week the country lost another of its great stalwarts of democracy with the passing of Kesval Moonsamy. Popularly known as ‘Kay’, Moonsamy was a member of a number of political organisations, becoming a trade union member at a very young age. Having started work at Rhodesian Timbers Limited when he was just 14 years old, he had first hand experience of the inequality and injustices that people of colour were exposed to in the workplace. Moonsamy went on to join the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), as well as the Communist Party of South Africa (later the South African Communist Party).
In June 1946, acting as a member of the NIC, Moonsamy participated in the Passive Resistance Campaign that saw thousands of people march through the streets of Durban in opposition to the Ghetto Act. The march culminated at the intersection of Gale Street and Umbilo Road (now the home of Resistance Park), where people pitched tents in defiance of the law of racial segregation. Moonsamy was arrested for his participation in the protest, and on his 20th birthday was sent to Ixopo Prison where he was sentenced to hard labour. Ten years later, in 1956, Moonsamy was again facing prison time for his political convictions, when along with 155 other defendants he was tried for treason, with all of the defendants eventually being found not guilty.
After the State of Emergency was declared in South Africa Moonsamy went underground, eventually going into exile in 1965. Over the course of the next three decades Moonsamy moved between various African states, as well as India and the Soviet Union, working with the likes of JB Marks and Oliver Tambo. In the early 1980s he served as the Treasurer General of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), and in 1989 was elected as the last president of SACTU.
In 1991 Kay Moonsamy finally returned home, after 26 years in exile. In 1999 he was elected as a member of parliament for the ANC, a seat he held for ten years. In 2015 President Jacob Zuma conferred the Order of Luthuli on Moonsamy, an honour bestowed on those who have made an exceptional contribution to the struggle for democracy.
On the 21st June 2017, Kay Moonsamy passed away in Durban at the age of 90. Having served his county and his people with such integrity and discipline, Kay Moonsamy was honoured with a provincial funeral, with flags flying at half mast across KwaZulu-Natal.