With roots strongly embedded in Durban, Managay Pillay grew up as the middle child of two brothers, and had a father who empowered her to always do her best. “He gave me confidence. It wasn’t the tradition in most Indian families for girls to be encouraged to explore their talents and go to college,” she said.
As for her childhood passions, they consisted primarily of playing tennis at club level and joining the neighbourhood kids in games of cricket and soccer. “I was never restricted, so I played to my heart’s content,” said Pillay.
Belonging to the ANC, Pillay’s father, Mr Ganasen, was part of the movement during apartheid. “As a result I lived in a very cosmopolitan household where everyone was welcome. This was the beginning of the making of me,” she said.
The dinners she had growing up were a paramount part of not only spending quality time with her family, but learning from them. “Our dinners were a big thing, we would all sit together at the table and talk, voice our opinions - without being rude, of course. My parents always motivated us to have our own individual ideas, even if they differed from their own."
After completing high school at a school in Chatsworth, Pillay went on to study Arts and Design at the ML Sultan Campus, completing the degree at 21.
A few years later, at 24, Pillay met her husband, and after two years of courtship he proposed, “Jay was a wonderful person in my life, someone who was brave enough to take me on. I was delighted to meet someone who shared my views and never stifled my free soul.”
“We started our lives together in Pietermaritzburg, where he grew up. When his company pulled out of the country due to the heavy sanctions, he told me he would never work for somebody else so we decided to buy a business. We turned it into a success.”
Being in the infant stages of demolishing apartheid, Pillay said they wanted to set the trend by encompassing all races at a work level in order to accomplish a happy working medium and acceptance of diversity. “We took pride in hiring a diverse team of people. Having a staff like this was important, it helped me grow, to see everyones values and learn from different mindsets and to see where we can improve to get along together.”
The pair were married for 25 years and had two sons who are now building their own lives. “In 2009, my husband passed away after being shot at the business. I entered a fight or flight state. After a few days, I went back to work to see to the business. Having been involved after all those years, working closely with my husband, managing the business, who better than myself to takeover?”
With the weight of the business on her shoulders, Pillay said she had to dig deep and keep going for the sake of her children. “It was up to me to bring home the bacon, there was no alternative.”
This life altering event changed the direction of Pillay’s journey. “The challenges were there, I had to wake up every morning at 5am, see to my children and deal with 52 wholesalers and a staff of 8-12 people depending on the season.”
At the same time, Pillay said it made her look for the good in each day. “I celebrate the simple pleasures of life like reading books, taking my dog for walks on the beach and watching her swim, having dinner with friends and engaging in intelligent conversations.”
Four years after Jay Pillay’s death in 2009, she visited her niece in the United States for eight weeks. When she returned to South Africa she had a need to make sure that what happened to her family didn’t happen to others. “I wanted to find an organisation that could help improve the lives of children, aiding them during a time where they need it most, so that they can grow into the people they have the potential to become.”
Pillay went on the search for such a place and found Girls and Boys Town in Tongaat. She joined in 2013 and has been working with them ever since as the Regional Fundraising Manager for KZN. “My role is to see that funds are brought in to keep it sustainable. In our current economy, it’s an uphill battle as we rely mainly on donations. I am so thankful to all the people that do support us, it is to them that we have reached 60 years and have managed to help 55 000 beneficiaries.”
As a woman who was constantly empowered by the men in her life, Pillay said, “One thing I always hone in on when it comes to what I stand for, and believe in, is empowering women. I put one of my maids through her studies in plant culture, today she is well on her way to getting a job in that field."