Manibhen Sita, daughter of Nana Sita, blows out the candles on her cake during her 90th birthday celebration at Freedom Park. Picture: Jacques Naude / ANA
Pretoria - Daughter of the legendary Nana Sita, Manibhen Sita says she hopes to live to be 100, just as her doctor told her she would.

Manibhen, who lives in Laudium, was on Sunday honoured during a public birthday celebration at Freedom Park in Pretoria.

The social justice campaigner and former teacher, now wheelchair-bound, was celebrating her 90th birthday. She turned up wearing an orange sari dress.

Manibhen said she was happy she still had her proper senses, although she was weaker physically.

“I do everything very slowly nowadays and I fell twice not so long ago; but other than being weak I’m doing perfectly fine,” Manibhen said.

“After falling for the first time, my doctor told me I was too healthy for my age and that I would live to a 100 years old.

“I hope it comes true.”

Manibhen remains passionate about building bridges between South Africans of all races. She said she was still determined to push her father’s legacy forward. “I might not be as strong as I was before, but I’m still called to events as a speaker and I occasionally attend.”

The birthday celebration was graced by Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Fatima Chohan, anti-apartheid activist Sophie de Bruyn, who co-led the 1956 march by women to the Union Buildings, and other former political activists.

The Laudium Women’s Network used the occasion to launch a book featuring original writing and artwork by women of the capital. The book addresses critical questions of identity and race for South Africans of Indian origin in the post-apartheid era. There were also dancers and artists performing throughout the event.

Manibhen was born in the then Asiatic Bazaar - Marabastad - into a family that was politically active. Her father, who had met and been greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, joined the Transvaal Indian Congress in 1928. He was an executive member and chairman of the Pretoria branch.

When the congresses decided on the Passive Resistance campaign, she and Thayanayagie Pillay organised a group of women volunteers. They formed the Indian Women’s Support League and helped raise awareness and funds.

Manibhen went to prison twice during the campaign - in 1946 and again in 1947. In 1952, she and two comrades from Lady Selborne were arrested and sentenced to three months in Pretoria Prison for occupying a bench at the railway station marked for whites only.

When the family was given notice to move, Nana Sita defied the order, refused to pay fines and was sentenced to jail terms of three and six months in 1963, 1964 and 1967.

Her father, who has a street named after him in the Pretoria city centre, died in 1969 and Manibhen and her mother, Pemiben, continued to live in their house in Van der Hoff Street in Hercules until 1976 when they were threatened with expropriation of their property and forced to move to Laudium.

Manibhen became an active campaigner, speaking at many mass meetings, exhorting people to boycott the elections. On election day in August 1984, Manibhen sat outside the polling station in Laudium dressed in black. She was a silent sentinel, a reminder to people that these were not democratic elections.

On her was a paper from the funeral of the Cradock Four. Manibhen and others were detained and sent to Diepkloof Prison. Manibhen spent 87 days in solitary confinement. In 1995, representing a ward in Laudium, she was elected to the Centurion Town Council and served as an ANC councillor for five years.

Pretoria News