He was there from the start and now his fight is being rewarded
Swaminathan Gounden will be bestowed with the Order of Luthuli in Silver for his meaningful contributions in the struggle for democracy, human rights and conflict resolution
At 90, Swaminathan Gounden’s memory is no longer as sharp as it used to be and his knees are failing him – but he still has a twinkle in his eyes when he recalls his struggle days.
Freedom Day holds particular meaning in his illustrious life.
He has never taken his freedom of movement and association for granted after being restricted for 25 years by apartheid authorities for his political activities as a member of the South African Community Party.
The nonagenarian – who still lives in the Durban “safe house” where his “comrades“ held umpteen meetings in the 1950s – dedicated more than 70 years of his life to helping liberate South Africa.
On Saturday his efforts will be recognised by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he is bestowed with the Order of Luthuli in Silver – an honour given to South Africans who made meaningful contributions in the struggle for democracy, human rights and conflict resolution.
“I am thrilled ... few people get recognised in this way,” said Gounden.He will receive the award at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House in Pretoria.
Gounden beams when he shows off his letter from the Presidency.
“The President has decided to honour you with the Order of Luthuli: Silver for your courageous push-back to apartheid oppression. You stood by the courage of your convictions in your pursuit of equality.”
It was his radical brother Rangasamy Karuppa – a trade unionist and communist – who had an influence on Gounden’s political will.
In 1944 he joined the ranks of the Community Party of South Africa, where his political activities got into full swing.
Gounden’s early life reads like the pages of a history book – having being one of the organisers of the Passive Resistance Campaign in 1946 to fight residential segregation and being part of the Defiance Campaign led by Nelson Mandela in 1952.
He was there when the Freedom Charter was adopted at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955 and was detained in 1964 for three months under the Suppression of Communism Act.His arrest and being declared a communist did not deter Gounden from his underground work in the 1970s and 1980s.
“One of the very important passages in the Freedom Charter is that the country belongs to all of us. It is unfortunate that people who don’t even follow the Freedom Charter are taking it upon themselves to say that the land must given without compensation.”
Gounden – who was occasionally in the presence of Chief Albert Luthuli, Mandela, Monty Naicker and Billy Nair – recalls how as a young freedom fighter he “feared and respected our seniors”.
“I’m absolutely disappointed about how things have turned out in the country. Back then we respected and feared our seniors. We would have never believed how corrupt our democratic country would have turned out. It is sad,” he said.