[DEBATE] : Hamba Khale Strini Moodley 22/12/1945-27/04/2006
vallys at epu.wits.ac.za
Thu Apr 27 13:44:30 BST 2006
A friend and close comrade of Steve Biko, Strini Moodley, died at 3am on
Thursday morning after respiratory failure.
Quick bio: 1970-regional organizer of TUCSA (Trade Union Council of South
Africa). Resigns on grounds of racism. Leaves Natal Indian Congress (with
Saths Cooper and others).
1972- elected Publications Director of SASO (South African Students
During workers'strikes in 73 banned under Suppression of Communism Act.
October 1974-arrested and later convicted under Terrorism Act following the
marathon SASO and Black People's Convention trial. Sentenced to six years'
imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island. After his release joined
AZAPO in 1981. Former deputy news editor at the Natal Witness and NEC member
of the Media Workers Association of SA (MWASA). One of the founding members
of the Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA).
Moodley was born on December 22, 1945. He is survived by his wife Asha and
The following article is based on an interview with Strini for the Irish
Republican newspaper An Phoblacht (6/04/2000)
The 1970s in South Africa were an exciting time. Under the example of Steve
Biko, young black students were organising and mobilising within the
movement for black consciousness, challenging decades of discrimination and
racial oppression. The heart of this movement was the South African Students
Organisation (SASO). In his weekly columns, I Say What I Like, Steve Biko,
writing under the by-line Frank Talk, broke every censorship law, taking the
South African government to task for Apartheid and its continual abuse of
the human rights of the majority of South Africans.
In 1974, the South African police arrested the editor of the SASO newspaper.
At 28 years of age, Srinivasa Moodley was a tall foreboding figure, afraid
of neither the police nor the consequences of his political activity. But
Strini (as he was known to his friends) was not the real target of the
police. They wanted the man behind the Frank Talk columns. Spending two
years on remand, Moodley was tortured to reveal the name and whereabouts of
Frank Talk. His refusal to talk cost him another five years in prison, as he
was sentenced and sent to Robben Island. Within a year, Steve Biko was dead,
assassinated by the South African authorities, and the Black Consciousness
Movement was either in jail or on the run.
For Strini Moodley, life was about to change dramatically. Robben Island was
home to the leaders of the African National Congress, such as Nelson
Mandela. Moodley was about ``to meet the real revolutionaries'', people who
had become like legends outside the jail. But on his arrival, he found
something very different. There was no political status within Robben
Island; there was no education, no reading material, no proper clothes or
amenities. For the young student radical, such conditions were not only
unbearable but the absence of any resistance against these conditions was a
``So we said, to hell with all of this. We are not going to do this. So we
began our own war within Robben Island. We knew what was being done by
political prisoners in the north of Ireland and in Algeria and other
prisoners all over the world. Political prisoners were standing up in
prisons. And particularly in Ireland. So when we first heard of Bobby Sands
were were also in the midst of our own war.''
Moodley and the other young radicals saw themselves fighting a battle for
liberation which was connected to other world events, in America, in Europe
and especially in Ireland. ``We identified with the IRA's struggle against
British domination,'' he says. ``So when we read about the action of Bobby
Sands, that was when we embarked on our own hunger strike. We saw in Sands a
true comrade, a person with whom we fully identified. We used the example of
Sands in our arguments when we were taking decisions about what we did.''
Moodley and eight others began their hunger strike for political status in
1981. Their demands included education, association, clothing, and other
basic human and civil rights. South Africa, however, unlike Ireland, does
not have the same tradition of political hunger strikes. It is an alien
concept for many people, and especially the older generation of political
prisoners in Robben Island. Nelson Mandela, in his autobiography, recalls
Moodley's hunger strike and how many of the ANC prisoners pleaded with the
young Black Consciousness radicals to come off it lest they die. But the
hunger strikers were adamant: ``We told them,'' says Moodley, ``we won't
stop until the prison authorities meet all of our demands''.
On the 14th day of the strike, by change, a delegation of the international
Red Cross, including their president, were on a routine visit to Robben
Island. As they met with the prisoners, they were informed that nine hunger
strikers were being kept in the punishment wing and needed to be seen
urgently. The prison authorities hoped that the Red Cross would not see
Moodley and the others but the Red Cross president insisted and the meeting
By this stage, Moodley weighed about 42 kilograms and was in poor physical
condition. The Red Cross delegation was so shocked by the state of the
hunger strikers that they exerted enough pressure on the prison authorities
for them to concede most of the prisoners' demands in a phased manner. So by
the time Moodley left prison in December 1981, all of the conditions which
appalled him on his arrival were beginning to change; Robben Island was
almost a new place.
After his release from prison, Moodley wrote a play called `Prison Walls',
which told the story of three prisoners and their differing relationships
with the prison system. Of the three, one had lost his spirit and was
conforming with the system, the second had an ambiguous relationship to that
system, and the third actively challenged the system, standing up for his
dignity and human rights. The play ends with the assassination of the third
prisoner. The play was intended to give people an ``understanding of the
power of people like Bobby Sands''. The play was dedicated to three men
whose influence on Moodley's life was enormous, Bobby Sands, George Jackson
and Steve Biko.
Reflecting on the sacrifice of the 1981 hunger strikers, Strini Moodley
tells An Phoblacht:
``For those of us from the Black Consciousness movement, the death of the
Irish hunger strikers brought us tremendous pain but also a feeling of
immense pride, immense admiration, for people who can give their lives in
order for people to be liberated. For me as an individual, when you give
your life in order to benefit others, that is the greatest gift that you can
``Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Steve Biko, George Jackson, Bobby
Sands, these are symbols for humanity. Because they were articulations of
humanity. They made the greatest sacrifice for their fellow human beings.
They died for the sake of the human race.''
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