OR TAMBO with ES Reddy, secretary of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid. Reddy later said: ‘He (Tambo) always treated me as a partner in the Struggle, rather than as a mere friend or supporter.’ | UN Photo Library

Two lifetimes rolled into one

Historians Selvan Naidoo and Kiru Naidoo pay tribute to ES Reddy, the former director of the UN Centre Against Apartheid, by drawing on his monumental archival collection

ENUGA Sreenivasalu Reddy, Order of the Companions of Oliver Tambo, is 96 today. The Indian national ranks among the most intrepid documental-ists and archivists of the South African freedom Struggle.

Known simply by his initials, ES, he landed in New York just after World War II, in early 1946. The young stu-dent had travelled from south India hoping to study engineering. A delayed boat meant he missed the start of the term. That led him into another pas-sion, politics. Reddy was immediately swept into the campaign to free South Africa from racism.

Speaking at a 1979 conference in London, on the 20th anniversary of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, he said: “I recall my own participation in a demonstration in front of the South African Consulate in New York in 1946 – under the leadership of Paul Robe-son and Dr WEB Du Bois – to protest the bloody suppression of the African mine labour strike and the Pegging Act against the Indian community. It took place during the 1946 visit of a delega-tion of the ANC, led by its president, Dr AB Xuma, to the United Nations.”

TOP: ES Reddy, seated second from the left, at a special session of United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid, held March 17-18, 1969, to discuss sanctions against South Africa. | UN Photo Library

At the time, his own country was on the final stretch of 200-year-long strug-gle against the brutal British colonial invasion. The nationalist movement, with Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi among others at the helm, had a deep concern about fighting for the liberation of other oppressed peoples.

Reflecting on the mission led by Mrs Vijayluxmi Pandit, Reddy wrote: “So when the Indian delegation came to the United Nations in ’46 for the first time, the free Indian delegation, they said the main issues in the world for us are colonialism and racism.”

The solidarity with South Africa had a much earlier history. The Indian National Congress and the ANC were part of the Congress of the Oppressed People against Imperialism, convened in Brussels in February 1927. Reddy noted that the meeting of Nehru and ANC president Josiah K Gumede was of great significance.

SOUTH African singer, human rights campaigner and political activist Miriam Makeba gave a speech at the UN in 1963. Addressing the UN special committee on apartheid, she characterised South Africa as ‘a nightmare of police brutality and government terrorism’.  | UN Photo Library

On the occasion of the 75th anni-versary of the ANC, on January 8, 1987, he said: “Indeed, the contacts established by leaders of colonial peo-ples at that congress were to lay the foundations for the Bandung Con-ference of 1955 and the Non-aligned Movement.”

Writing in the monthly ANC jour-nal Sechaba in 1989, Reddy pointed out that Nehru “saw to it that India did its utmost to promote African freedom and play a leading role on behalf of Africa in the United Nations, until newly independent African nations could take over”.

Soon after completing his stud-ies in New York, Reddy joined the United Nations. Uppermost on his agenda were the campaigns of the freedom movements of South Africa and Namibia.

An earlier sitting of the UN thwarted attempts by General Jan Smuts to incorporate Namibia into South Africa. It was there too, in 1946, that Pandit embarrassed Smuts and declared India would be the first country to break diplomatic relations with the racist regime in Pretoria and impose sanctions.

Speaking before the Swedish Peo-ple’s Parliament against Apartheid in 1986, Reddy said: “I believe my own principal contribution in the United Nations, as the official in charge of action against apartheid, from 1963 to 1984, was in encouraging, promoting and assisting the actions of anti-apart-heid movements and other non-gov-ernmental organisations, as well as individuals, in campaigns and actions against apartheid, and in support of the Struggle for liberation in South Africa.”

A HOLIDAY picture taken in 2019 at the home of ES Reddy, during a visit by Professor Jairam Reddy (extreme right). | Professor Jairam Reddy

When he was invited to speak at a conference on international anti-apart-heid movements, convened by the Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Cen-tre in Durban in 2004, Reddy recalled that the Special Committee Against Apartheid brushed aside doubts about its competence to grant hearings to South Africans. Between May and July the leaders of the world, would you act differently, would you keep silent and do nothing if you were in our place? Would you not resist if you were allowed no rights in your own country because the colour of your skin is different from that of the rulers, and if you were punished for even asking for equality? I appeal to you and to countries of the world, to do everything you can to stop the coming tragedy.”

Thanks to the activism of Makeba, Winnie Mandela, Paul David and oth-ers, Reddy wrote in 1988, in an article in the Patriot, in New Delhi: “Mandela has become known and respected all over the world as a symbol of the Struggle against apartheid and all forms of racism and a hero of African liberation. He is the most honoured political prisoner in history.”

In presenting the Dadoo Memorial Lecture in New Delhi in 1996, Reddy said: “I recall meeting Oliver Tambo… in March 1983. He was glowing with praise for India. ‘ES,’ he said, ‘we have countries in Africa which are geo-graphically the Frontline States. But in India we have a country which is totally committed, a Frontline State in feeling and action’.”

It was fitting that when the South African government conferred its highest award to a foreign national, the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo, the citation in Reddy’s honour read: “His active support of the South African freedom movement for more than half a century. As head of the UN Centre Against Apartheid for over two decades, he played a key role in pro-moting international sanctions against South Africa and organising the world campaign to free Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners.”

A fortnight ago, in a livestreamed tribute, his namesake and chairperson of the History Society, Dr Jairam Reddy, observed that ES Reddy’s relentless activism was effectively two lifetimes rolled into one.

Mr S Naidoo is the curator of the 1860 Heritage Centre and Mr K Naidoo serves on the advisory board of the Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre at UKZN.

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