Pioneering Indian politician dies at 91

Thulkanna Palan. l Supplied

Thulkanna Palan. l Supplied

Published Jul 7, 2024


Durban — Thulkanna Palan, who served in the tricameral parliament as part of the first group of Indian politicians to serve in the House of Delegates, died this week. He was 91 years old.

Palan died from heart failure on Tuesday at his home in Havenside.

The former councillor was born in Nil Desperandum, outside uMzinto, in 1933 and moved to Durban in 1963. After a short stay in Clairwood, he moved to Havenside, Chatsworth, where he lived with his wife until his death.

He was the son of indentured labourers. His father was a sugar cane cutter.

Palan was the middle child of 12 siblings and was the only one to attend high school and receive his Senior Certificate.

After graduating from uMzinto High, he moved to Durban for work to help support his family when his parents died when he was 18 years old. His first job was at Hart Limited, as a factory worker making toilet seat covers.

In 1978, Palan started an estate agency in partnership with a friend, and wrote the first public exams for estate agents. He owned his own estate agency, Statesman Estates, for 23 years and retired in 2001.

Palan married in 1959 and had four children. His wife died in 1987 and he remarried in 1989 to Irene Palan.

Mervyn Palan, his second son, said his father was a very supportive person.

“He was a loving and gentle father. He was caring and supportive of everything we wanted to do. He was a proud grandfather and an even prouder great-grandfather.”

Mervyn said his dad began his involvement in politics in 1971.

“He started his critical thinking of politics in high school, because he enjoyed debating about political issues that everyone faced at the time.

“He enjoyed it so much that when he finished school and moved to the city, he formed a debating club in Clairwood South, where they would gather to debate political issues.”

In 1971, Palan started serving in the South Durban Indian Local Affairs Committee and in 1980 he was made chairman until he left in 1984.

“Dad served in the tricameral parliament from 1984 to 1994, being elected as part of the first group to serve in the House of Delegates. In 1985, he moved a motion for Parliament to prevent 13 houses from being demolished, and that the second access route into Chatsworth be diverted and go via Coedmore.

“After the end of his parliamentary career, he served on the interim council in Durban and was then elected ward councillor for ward 69 in 1999,” he said.

“He served as ward councillor for 13 years until his retirement in 2011.”

Palan was on the ground, seeing the issues that community members were facing and was instrumental in helping them solve their problems.

“He was also a founding member of the Havenside Civic Association, and in 1964 he was their first secretary.

“He fought for them to have access to basic service delivery and facilities. He helped erect their first shopping centre and community hall. He also helped build tar roads where there were brick roads in place.”

Palan served as the chairman for over 20 years.

“Politics was truly his calling. He saw the injustices and made it his life’s mission to help people… it started from a young age,” said Mervyn.

“He spent his time giving his community the best, as his hobby was serving people. So much so that he would pick up people to take them to hospital.

“Havenside Clinic was my dad’s brain child. He started it in September 2001, as a way for doctors to help senior citizens in the area get treatment. He found doctors in the area to help from 8am to10am.

“They also guided the senior citizens on illnesses.

“He also helped with the delivery of medication to patients from RK Khan Hospital. They would package the meds and send them to the Chatsworth Child Welfare and Havenside Hall where patients would pick up their medications without waiting long hours in a line.”

Palan stayed involved in the community until his last days, remaining on the board of management for the Chatsworth Child Welfare.

“Dad just wanted a better future for all people. His goal was that everyone (should have) a better life. There were many ways to get that done but dad chose politics. He didn’t want people to suffer.

“Up until the day he died, he would sign letters for senior citizens as he was a commissioner of oaths. He would even take their letters and deliver them to the municipality, for the water and electricity issues. He was 91 and helping people younger than himself.”

Palan was seen as a fearless man who wouldn’t shy away from helping anyone even if they were not in support of the Minority Front.

“He was a MF councillor but he would still help in areas that were run by other parties.

“He would go into informal settlements and talk to those in need. He didn’t see them differently, he just saw them as people who needed help and that was his job. He believed in handling the situation.” His son said he would miss his loving father.

“I will miss having a dad, but also a person who I could talk to, a person with an inquiring mind. I will take his lessons of kindness with me and show it to others the way he did,” said Mervyn.

Palan’s funeral took place on Saturday at the Havenside Gramma Devi Hall.

Sunday Tribune