Rajaluxmi Pillay (also known as Rajes) was born on 4 August 1944 in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal – KZN). Her parents were from Kimberley in the then Cape Province (now Northern Cape Province) where she grew up.

Pillay’s father, T.V.R. Pillay, was president of the Kimberley Branch of the Tamil Vedic Society and secretary of the Cape Coloured People's Association. He was also a member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), Kimberley Branch. Due to his political activities, her father was a listed person. Often the Security Police used to harass him and take him in for interrogation.

Rajes’s primary schooling was at an Anglican Church school and she later attended Perseverance High, a mixed school for the black community, where she matriculated in the early 1960s.

Following her father’s death in 1958, the family resettled in Natal. She was denied entry to the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg and the University of Cape Town to study law in the early 1960s.

Her mother took the family abroad to complete their education. Unfortunately, finances were inadequate and following three years of schooling in Great Britain, from 1963 to 1966, after completing her A levels, the family returned to Durban, South Africa.

In London, she came into contact with Dr Yusuf Dadoo and other South Africans in exile. Dr Dadoo used her flat for meetings with South African students and she came to know him very well and others such as Essop Pahad and Aziz Pahad.

In Britain, she joined the National Union of Students, where she was active in raising money for underdeveloped countries, food and clothing and also volunteered in non-governmental organisation that worked in third world countries, such as OXFAM, Bread for the World and other organisations. 

She continued her studies at the University of Natal, where she came under the influence of activists of the calibre of Paul Devadas David, Steve Biko, Rogers Ragavan and Ben Ngubane.

Pillay became assistant secretary to the Students Representative Council (SRC), Black Section, University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal – UKZN) in 1966.

Rajes Pillay - SRC 1966-67 - University of Natal

Rajes Pillay with other members of the SRC at the then University of Natal - 1966 - 67

During the 1970s, Rajes came into contact with the ANC underground while working for a store in Durban and was recruited in the ANC’s military wing, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK). At the same time, she became a field worker for a programme that the South African Council of Churches (SACC) was running to look after those who were affected by apartheid.

The SRC was involved in organising Chief Albert Luthuli’s, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, funeral in Groutville, Natal. As a result, Rajes was also involved in this.

A little while after the funeral, a Captain from the Security Branch visited her home.  This marked her constant harassment and surveillance by the Security Police from 1963 right until 1979 when she left the country to go into exile. 

Rajes was an active member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC). She worked very closely associated with people such as Phyllis Naidoo, M D Naidoo, Cassim Amra, AKM Docrat, people who were all banned and silenced by the state.  

She also worked a lot with the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which brought her into contact with people who were just released from detention or from Robben Island. 

Rajes participated in some of the Black Consciousness (BC) projects — theatre, music, etc., which, in an indirect way challenged the status quo.

In the 1970s one of her friends, who was in exile, contacted with Rajes requesting certain information, they wanted directories and they requested maps and monies to be given or left at certain addresses. She did this for about two or three years. Unfortunately for Rajes, the courier who she was interacting was a collaborator with the South African Police (SAP).

Thus she was forced to go into exile in 1979, under the instructions of the African National Congress (ANC). Had she not left, the consequence would have been that she would have had been forced to reveal names, places where she had to leave monies, had the Security police taken her in for interrogation and would have been forced to implicate a lot of people, something she was not prepared to do.

Rajes went to exile in Swaziland where she was assisted by the head of the United Nations (UN) refugee programme, a Doctor Ambrose Zwane, a Roman Catholic Priest. She was placed with two refugees who had left Durban in 1977. 

George Naicker and Ebrahim Ebrahim, former Robben Island prisoners, who were still in the country, were in contact with her in Swaziland. Unfortunately for them the courier they were using, as a go-between, was in fact a SAP spy. When the ANC discovered this, they instructed the pair to leave the country and go into exile.

Her first job in Swaziland was as a Refugee Counsellor for the UN where she did relief work, arranging funerals, scholarships, etc.

The Swaziland Government clamped-down on ANC refugees following the signing of the Nkomati Accord between South Africa and Mozambique. The ANC advised the refugees to leave Swaziland for other frontline states.

In 1985 her mother visited her, in Swaziland, for the first time after Rajes had left for exile.

When they were forced to leave Swaziland, Rajes went to Maputo, Mozambique and stayed there for about three or four weeks. She then received travel papers to go to Zambia, Zimbabwe and was eventually sent to Angola.

Life in exile was very difficult and the rigours of exile began to have an effect on her health. The ANC then sent Rajes to Holland for medical treatment. 

She returned to South Africa, in 1990, after 12 years in exile. The Reservoir Hills (Durban, KZN) community organised a welcome home function for her.

She helped to organise people during the first democratic national elections in 1994.   

In 2009, the Durban-based Mahatma Gandhi Foundation honoured her contribution to the South African liberation struggle.

Rajaluxmi Pillay (Rajes) passed away on 29 December 2020 in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.


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