22Jul, 2019

An extraordinary life: Mrs Senmathie Pillay’s story

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | July 22nd, 2019

The following is an extract from a submission from Lotus FM DJ, Taresh Hareeshparshad, to the Commonwealth Life Stories initiative.

“It was the late 70s. Banned political activity was heightened as African National Congress cadres hid from pillar to post trying to mobilise support for the liberation movement.”

One night, Mrs Pillay’s second born Dhanapalan Pillay told her “Ma, somebody’s downstairs. They are going to stay tonight and go in the morning. Put all the blinds down.”

“Now I don’t know who I’m going to meet? Oiyo when I met them – they looked so calm: Pravin and Billy,” she says. The ANC was banned at this stage and if these activists were caught by the apartheid Security Branch their lives would be in grave danger.

“I made them good meals and told them to sleep upstairs,” she says. Her eyes soften as she speaks from her maternal heart. “They called me ‘ma’. They’ll never forget me.”

Mrs Pillay tells me how she had no answer to her three children when they asked her: “Ma, why are there only two seats on the entire bus for us?” Here’s a woman – who like several other South Africans stayed silent every time the whip of apartheid cracked. “When we would go shopping, if a white person was behind us in the queue, they used to still get served first. What could I do?” she asked me.


And that’s exactly what she did when she provided refuge to Pravin Gordhan and Billy Nair to help them do another days work to deconstruct the apartheid system.