A special place in Phyllis Naidoo’s heart

Last week the Mail & Guardian published an obituary of Phyllis Naidoo by Niren Tolsi in which he said that my mother had three children. Please allow me to set the record straight.

When my mother talked of the sons she lost she talked only of Sahdhan and Sharadh. In fact, there was Nersen too. My mother married Willie Joseph as a young woman and they had a son, Nersen. The marriage did not last long and Willie left for the United States. Nersen spent much time at my grandparents' home in Verulam.

When he was 10, he went to visit his father in the US and never came back. In the mid-1970s, when he would have been in his 20s, he started telephoning her in Durban. They would have long conversations, which she was so happy about.

After we were in Lesotho for some time, Nersen wrote her a letter – I mention this because at the time every item that came to Lesotho was scrutinised by South African security agents. In this letter he told her that he wanted to join Umkhonto weSizwe and wanted her to facilitate this. I can remember a meeting being called – I don't remember exactly who was there, but Chris Hani definitely was. There was a big debate and it was decided that Nersen was probably a CIA plant and my mother should break all contact with him.

I am sure to your ears this sounds paranoid and frankly ridiculous. But at that time it was not. I can only imagine how devastated he must have been. It has always been clear to me that all he was reaching out for was his mother and he thought that couching that approach in noble political terms would probably appeal more to her.


For reasons that I will never understand, he then set off for West Africa, where he joined Charles Taylor's ragtag army in Liberia and perished there in the mid-1980s. He was buried in a pauper's grave.

My poor mother was punished by so much loss. But my brother Nersen deserves his place in our ­family as Phyllis Naidoo's eldest son. – Sukhthi Naidoo

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