Devadas Paul David was born on 26 August 1940 in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal - UKZN) into a devout Catholic family. His grandparents came from a little village in Tamil Nadu, South India to Natal as indentured sugar cane labourers.
In 1961 David studied for a law degree at the then University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal – UKZN) in Durban and served in the Student Representatives Council (SRC) alongside Steve Biko. Three years earlier, David, at the age of 17, joined the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and became the secretary of the NIC Youth Congress (NICYC) while still a pupil at the Verulam High School on the North Coast.
He became politically aware at a young age when his father and eldest sister, Phyllis Naidoo, spoke out openly against the apartheid system. At this time, he also came under the influence of his brother-in-law, M D Naidoo, who was married to his sister, Phyllis.
David became actively involved in the political struggles when he joined Mewa Ramgobin and other activists in the revival of the NIC in the early 1970s and was elected secretary of this organisation in 1979. He was also involved with the Release Mandela Committee and was elected its secretary in 1983 and in the same year became fully involved with the United Democratic Front (UDF).
On September 13, 1984, six of the UDF leaders in KwaZulu-Natal went into hiding - Archie Gumede, Mewa Ramgobin, MJ Naidoo, Billy Nair, George Sewpersad and David - took refuge in the British Consulate in Durban. They deliberately went to the British Consulate to highlight and protest the British government's support for the P W Botha regime.
The British consular officials did not want to give the six sanctuary. They made the living conditions inside the building as difficult as they could: they had to sleep on the floor with no mattresses or pillows; could only visit the toilet under escort for half an hour each morning; they were only allowed visits from doctors and lawyers (although in fact, the doctors and lawyers who visited them were UDF and NIC members, so they could keep contact with their organisations).
Three of the six left the consulate after three weeks. The government arrested them immediately. The remaining three stayed inside the consulate for 90 days. On December 10 1984, the South African government backed down in the face of international pressure, and withdrew the detention notices against the men. Two days later, the remaining three activists came out of the consulate; 6000 people assembled to welcome them and celebrated on the street outside the Consulate.
David was denied a passport since 1957. However, the State issued him with a passport for only 12-days, in 1979, to receive medical treatment in London and a 3-day passport in April 1989 to attend the funeral of his nephew, Sahdan Naidoo (son of M.D. and Phyllis Naidoo), in Lusaka, Zambia. Sahdan was in exile and in charge of the ANC’s farm here, when he was assassinated.
Devdas Paul David passed away on 13 August 2020 at his home in KwaDukuza (Stanger), KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
- Naidoo, S. (2019). In Conversation with Paul David from the The 1860 Heritage Centre. Available at https://www.facebook.com/1860heritagecentre/posts/in-conversation-with-paul-davidborn-on-august-26-1940-in-pietermaritzburg-into-a/1132393933601295/ , online. Accessed 13 August 2020.
- South African History Online Archives. Accessed on 13 August 2020.
- Political activists seek refuge in the British Consulate in Durban
- The Pietermaritzburg Treason Trial, 1984
- South Africa and the United Kingdom embroiled in a diplomatic crisis