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Award for Swaminathan as he reflects on liberation fight

Swaminathan Karuppa Gounden will be bestowed with one of the country’s highest honours - the Order of Luthuli in silver.

Swaminathan Karuppa Gounden will be bestowed with one of the country’s highest honours - the Order of Luthuli in silver.

Published Apr 19, 2018


Durban - When the Freedom Charter, the seminal document notable for its demand for a non-

racial South Africa, was officially adopted at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955, Swaminathan Karuppa Gounden was there.

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Now, almost 63 years later, Gounden will travel to Pretoria to be recognised for his commitment and dedication to fulfilling many of the goals espoused by the charter.

On April 28, the nonagenarian will be at the Sefako

Makgatho Presidential Guest House to be honoured by President Cyril Ramaphosa, by being bestowed with one of the country’s highest honours - the Order of Luthuli in silver.

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The order is awarded to a South African who has significantly contributed to the freedom Struggle, human rights, nation-building, justice and conflict resolution.

“I am quite delighted to receive the award as it is one of the country’s prestigious accolades,” Gounden said.

He will be accompanied by his daughter, Saras Naidoo.

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His son, Vasu, the executive director of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, is expected to join them thereafter.

Gounden has dedicated more than 70 years of his life to the liberation of South Africa.

At the age of 90, he is in fine health with an astonishing memory of events and people who paved the road for the country’s freedom.

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He describes his brother, Rangasamy Karuppa, as the greatest influence in his life. Fondly known as RK, he was one of the early generation communists and radical trade unionists in Durban.

Gounden explained: “My brother was very politically conscious. He was a leftist and he joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). 

"Thereafter, he was active in community work in the Magazine Barracks. Now all that gave me inspiration to follow in his footsteps.”

As a result of his brother’s activism, Gounden joined the Red Rose Social Club, Young Communist League, and in 1944 became a member of the CPSA.

The communist spirit of human freedom, dignity of labour and equality for all still pumps furiously in his chest.

Gounden’s involvement in the Congress Movement dates back to 1945.

He aligned with the radicals in the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) led by Monty Naicker, and was one of the organisers of the Passive Resistance Campaign in 1946 to fight residential segregation.

During 1952, he was part of the Defiance Campaign led by the ANC with Nelson Mandela as volunteer-in-chief.

His brother-in-law, Ganasen Nair, drove him and two African comrades, whose names he doesn’t recall, to the Congress of the People.

They were fortunate to evade police roadblocks by taking the back roads through Kwadukuza (Stanger) .

In 1958, Gounden joined the Durban Indian Child Welfare Society, where he worked as a senior administrative officer for many years.

After the Passive Resistance Campaign, Gounden continued his involvement in community organisations as an activist.

He was detained in 1964 for three months under the Suppression of Communism Act.

Gounden was arrested in his Asherville home, which served as a safe house for comrades to host meetings in the 1950s, when a special branch spy had collected sufficient information to put him behind bars.

“I was then listed for 25 years as a communist and forced to report at the police station in Gardiner Street,” he recalled.

Gounden’s detention proved no barrier to his underground work through the 1970s and 1980s.

The NIC selected Gounden as one of its delegates to the launch of the United Democratic Front in 1983.

“It was a very huge conference with delegates from all over the country.”

His legal restrictions fell away in 1990 when the ANC and Communist Party were unbanned.

Comrades had immediately encouraged him to apply for his passport so that he would be able to travel freely for the first time in his life.

Gounden’s family came to South Africa in 1903.

His father, Karuppa, arrived in Durban in September of that year on the SS Umzinto.

Indentured to the Sevenoaks Train Station in Greytown, he was later employed by the Durban Corporation at Mitchell Park Zoo.

With his colonial-born wife, Subbamma, they lived at the Emergency Barracks adjacent to Jameson Gardens.

Eventually, white families in the area began to object to non-whites living in their suburb, and the family were relocated to Magazine Barracks.

Gounden, who has six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, may be retired, however, he has not stopped his community work and is still a communist at heart.

Recently, Gounden along with Pravin Ram, Hemant Nowbath and Amar Ramlochan published Asherville - Springtown: People and Place. 

As a result of the book’s success, Gounden’s next venture will be to publish a book on the Magazine Barracks.

* The 1860 Heritage Centre in Derby Street, Durban, will celebrate Gounden’s role in South Africa’s freedom with an event on May 1, at 2pm.

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