Remember their turbulent love, disguised in terrible struggle

On May 1, friends and family of my parents, struggle veterans Phyllis and MD Naidoo, gathered at the Durban Botanical Gardens for a short ceremony to bless a bench honouring their memory.

My mother loved the botanical gardens so much and it seemed fitting to honour my parents in Durban, the city both were so uncompromising in their determination to live, die and serve in.

My father died 10 days before my son Buck was born. Who can blame him for not waiting? My brother Sharadh had died in March of that year. And, as the emphysema slowly squeezed my father’s lungs closed, I imagine, too, that his heart was well and truly beyond repair, having by then lost both his boys.

That was 1995. My father’s ashes were kept in a vault in Mobeni Heights with Sha’s for 17 years until my mother died in 2013.

My brother Sahdhan’s ashes had been buried with my grandparents, Simon and Violet David, in Verulam in 1989 when he died. It seemed wrong to disturb their grave to retrieve Sahdhan’s ashes. But we collected my father’s and Sha’s and scattered them at sea with my mother’s, uniting my parents in death in a way that had evaded them in life.

Our personal story intersected with the political in ways that compounded all the agonies. For us, as the children of political parents, if you can, you try to see that your parents’ lives were larger than how they related to you, served a larger purpose than their roles in the family.

And yes, it is as undeniably sad as it sounds. Because when they were old, they were lonely. And by then it was too late to change that narrative. For us there was prison, exile, death, and there was divorce. Undeniably, the deaths of my brothers were the worst of it, but my parents’ divorce and all the subsequent years of fighting were pretty awful too.

I remember once asking my Aunt Tim (my father’s youngest sister and my mother’s great friend) what my parents were like before my father went to prison. I only knew them divorced and at war with one another. She said it was sickening how in love they were.

I was telling this story to Judge Zak Yacoob a few evenings ago and he reminded me that he acted for my mother in their divorce. He recollected asking her a similar question in their preparations for trial and cross-examination. She told him they were so in love that they wanted to put themselves in a matchbox for the rest of their lives. Well, they were both stubborn smokers until the last, so the reference is apt.

When my father died in 1995 I realised that my mother was grief-stricken and I was shocked. The fighting of the last 40 years disguised deeply held passions, it seemed.

So I leave this bench in our beautiful botanical gardens in the hope that many young and old people will sit and contemplate each other like two matchsticks in a box.

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