Farouk Meer, Thumba Pillay and Jerry Coovadia

Dr Farouk Meer spent many nights away from his Overport home during the Struggle, with fears that the security branch would come in the middle of the night to effect an arrest.

Meer, who turns 80 this year, was a secretary general of the Natal Indian Congress and a leading figure in the United Democratic Front in the 1980’s.

He was arrested twice and detained without trial by the apartheid regime.

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Meer used to mobilise support against the apartheid government in areas such as Phoenix, Chatsworth and Overport and worked in uMlazi as a medical doctor at Prince Mshiyeni Hospital.

“In retrospect those (Struggle days) were the best days of my life. I was working with lots of people, we were mobilising, going house-to-house, door-to-door, telling the guys about the Freedom Charter and helping the guys with their daily problem. We were deeply involved at a grassroots level forming committees.

“I was detained twice and became the guest of the government on two occasions, they would always come at 2am, wake you up and push you around, take you to Pretoria and you have to be their guest. That’s not very nice,” he said.

Although Meer was never tortured by his own admission, he says, this was probably because he was a medical doctor. But people like Pravin Gordhan “had it worse”.

“I think the fact that I was a medical practitioner they had some respect for me. My profession more than anything else saved me, it wasn’t me,” he said.    

Asked how he would be commemorating 24 years of freedom today, Meer criticised the ANC - particular the Zuma-led administration.

“We haven’t been very successful in transforming ourselves from life under apartheid and life under so called freedom. I think we botched things up in a big way,” said Meer.

“If you look at the present situation, the worst botcher was Zuma, he has done so much damage to the organisation and to South Africa itself,” he said.

Meer, who admits he is no longer a card-carrying member of the ANC but remains “ANC at heart”, said Zuma was able to get away with so much because the constitution was “faulty”.

“On a day like this I think, particularly in terms of the Constitution, we gave too much power to (Nelson) Mandela. Not that Mandela did anything wrong, he did nothing wrong, but we were under the illusion that if you were under the ANC you would never do things like that, so we don’t have to worry about that. A person like Zuma takes advantage of that,” he said.

But Meer, believes ordinary South Africans should have the right to select their own president and not one imposed by the party.

“The presidency must be contested by every South African, not the ANC alone. Today there is no real democracy in South Africa, because we have somebody else representing us, without coming and asking us or getting any mandate from us to act on our behalf,” he said.

Despite the criticism of the ANC and the manner in which the governing party swopped Zuma for Ramaphosa, Meer said he rated the current president as “first class” and said he had worked with him during Codesa, where Meer was part of a committee.

He said however, that Ramaphosa needed to cleanse himself for what happened at Marikana.

Meer considers his family as very close to the Mandela family, spending the day with former president Nelson Mandela with when he was imprisoned at Pollsmoor Prison.

“My sister was very close with him, through my sister I considered myself to be close to Mandela… He called for us when he was at Pollsmoor Prison, they had a special house for him. Three of us spent a whole day with him there, it was Archie Gumede, Diliza Mji and Jerry Covadia, we were considered to be key people in KZN,” he said.

Sunday Tribune