Strini Moodley

Black Consciousness campaigner

Strinivasa Moodley, journalist and political activist: born Durban, South Africa 29 October 1946; twice married (two sons, two daughters); died Durban 27 April 2006.

It is an irony of South African political history that the banning of a whole generation of "liberation" activists and their organisations in the 1960s led to the rise of the militant, outspoken and uncompromising Black Consciousness movement in the early 1970s. Its promoters scorned apartheid's divisions and its African, Indian and mixed-race members were proudly "black". Among the most eloquent and dedicated of them was Strini Moodley.

A product of middle-class Indian society in Natal, albeit the son of left-wing parents, he attended Sastri College and Natal's Indian university college to study English and drama, only to be expelled as a militant student leader. At this time he inspired the formation of a radical black theatre movement, first through a student drama group, Clan, then the radical Theatre Council of Natal and a national black theatre union.

Black students' membership of the white-Liberal-led National Union of South African Students was anathema to him and he helped to end Nusas's long and honourable history by his work for the blacks-only South African Students Organisation, for which he issued newsletters and publications. His prominence in Saso and the growing Black Consciousness Movement led, in 1973, to the inevitable five-year banning order, which refused him any political or social life and confined him to Durban. The following year, with eight other Black Consciousness activists, he was put on trial under the all-purpose Terrorism Act and sentenced in 1976 to five years on Robben Island. Steve Biko, their leader and a defence witness, died in 1977 after police beatings.

On "the island" Moodley and his comrades presented a problem to the authorities by their refusal to accept prison rules or to conform to the standards upheld in the interests of better treatment. Moodley and others were sent for several months to Nelson Mandela's "B-Section" in the vain hope that the counsels of these élite prisoners would prevail. They didn't and Moodley was released in 1981 "bloody but unbowed".

He told afterwards how he could not then accept Mandela's willingness to conciliate his "white oppressors", though it was this policy that led to the latter's talks with President P.W. Botha and the negotiations with his successor F.W. de Klerk which delivered black South Africa from its centuries of bondage.

Black Consciousness followers formed the Azanian People's Organisation (Azapo) in 1979 and later the Socialist Party of Azania (Sopa) and Moodley directed their publicity and took an active role until the mid-1990s. Their black exclusivism was at variance with the public mood and their electoral impact was slight.

A revolutionary who refused to accept that his cause had triumphed, Moodley became an active consultant to Non-Governmental Organisations that met his high demands. These included Umtapo, of which he was a founder. Its aim is to contribute

to the empowerment of oppressed people and the expansion of a self-reliant ethos in a country where the greatest majority of its people suffered serious exploitation and dehumanisation.

Despite his criticism of former comrades who have joined the "recycled black - read African if you prefer - bourgeoisie", Moodley has been mourned by many of them. Sibusiso Ndebele, premier of KwaZulu-Natal, called him "a true son of Africa".

Randolph Vigne

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