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Tributes pour in for Struggle stalwart ’Swami’ Gounden

Political activist and trade union leader Swaminathan ’Swami’ Karuppa Gounden. Picture: Supplied

Political activist and trade union leader Swaminathan ’Swami’ Karuppa Gounden. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 30, 2021


Johannesburg - Tributes have poured in for political activist and trade union leader Swaminathan "Swami" Karuppa Gounden, 94, who died on Tuesday morning.

Gounden was popularly known as one of the last surviving ANC members who attended the historic signing of the Freedom Charter at the 1955 Congress of the People in Kliptown, Soweto.

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Gounden participated as an activist and leader in most of the major historic campaigns in the Struggle against apartheid in South Africa. These included the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign, the 1952 Defiance Campaign, the 1955 Kliptown Conference and the 1983 launch of the UDF.

On Tuesday morning, Gounden's son, Vasu Gounden, who is also a political activist, announced his death.

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal issued a tribute to the political activist, trade unionist, communist and community activist.

"His contribution and community service towards improving the living conditions of the oppressed people has been profoundly recognised. Because of his dedication and service to the people of South Africa, President Cyril Ramaposa bestowed on him the Order of Luthuli.

“We want to extend our sincere condolences to the Gounden family, and while we mourn his departure, we take comfort and will always be indebted to his contribution in our liberation struggle, and we can attest to his generosity, humility and respect for human dignity," said Nhlakanipho Ntombela, the ANC’s provincial spokesperson.

In his last public address, shortly after receiving national honours, Gounden said it was his consciousness that determined his existence.

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Growing up in the Magazine Barracks, Gounden said it was there that he saw first-hand the indignity that apartheid meted out to his family and neighbours.

"I saw the privacy of adults compromised, the indecent sanitary conditions, the poverty and the hopelessness of people. It was in the shoe factory that I worked in that I saw the exploitation of workers, the poor working conditions and the slave wages that took away the dignity of workers.

"I remember how the police tortured and taunted me simply because of my beliefs. I saw and lived all this, and this is what shaped my consciousness. This is what led me to join the Leather Workers Union, the Natal Indian Congress, the South African Communist Party and the ANC, so that I could work for the betterment of our people. I have spent the last seventy years of my life involved in the political and civic struggles of our people," he said at that time.

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Good friend and fellow activist Ebrahim Ebrahim said he shared fond memories of working together with Gounden in the early 50s and during the 1952 Defiance Campaign, as well as being present with him in Kliptown in 1955.

"In the early 60s he assisted Billy Nair and I in our MK activities. I think we were the only two oldest surviving members of the NIC. He was a revolutionary par excellence. He was a freedom fighter, a communist and an internationalist. He never deviated from his beliefs in the struggle of the working class and the poor in our country. He was an example of what a revolutionary cadre should be," Ebrahim said.

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