Obituary: Gonny Govender, Drum veteran who stood his ground

26 June 2016 - 02:33 By Chris Barron


Gonaseelan "Gonny" Govender, who has died in London at the age of 84, wrote for Drum magazine in its glory days in the '50s. He exposed the appalling conditions of workers on Natal's sugar plantations. Among the biggest offenders were prominent Indian farmers. They formed a powerful lobby that had great influence in local Indian political circles.When they took their complaints to South African National Indian Congress leader Monty Naicker, he brought pressure to bear on Drum's newly hired editor from Fleet Street, Anthony Sampson.The last thing Sampson wanted was to alienate such an important political constituency and he had a heated exchange with Govender, who stood by his story and refused to back down.Govender, who had impressive connections in the criminal underworld, also wrote about a notorious Durban Indian gang of extortionists known as the Crimson League. He received a call from the gang's head honcho, "Big Daddy" Naidoo, who invited him to a meeting at the Goodwill Lounge for a cup of tea and possibly more leads.In spite of being warned not to, Govender accepted the offer, although he decided to carry a gun "just in case".He was intercepted on his way to the Goodwill Lounge, bundled into a car and told that he would be shot with his own gun and dumped in Durban Bay if he did not reveal his informant.As it happened, his informant was "Pine" Mohammed, one of the leaders of the Crimson League, but there was no way Govender was going to betray him.Instead he let it be known he had told his father and his uncle Jack Govender, a former boxing champion with a reputation to match, about the meeting, giving them the identities of those he was going to meet. They let him go.His gang story caused such a sensation that there was a run on this edition of the magazine and it was only available on the black market.Govender was born in Cato Manor in August 1931. He was educated at Sastri College where he edited one of the first - if not the first - black student magazines, which was called Nuntius.While at Sastri College he became a prolific letter writer to Durban newspapers, attacking the colour bar and lack of municipal facilities in black areas.His letters came to the attention of Dhanee Bramdeo, editor and founding publisher of the Indian weekly The Leader, who offered him a job.He began contributing to Drum magazine under the pseudonym Umvoti, when it was still owned by the man who started it, South African test cricketer and war hero Bob Crisp, who fell out with his editors and sold it to Jim Bailey.Bailey hired Govender. After challenging Bailey about the disparity of pay for white and black journalists on Drum, he quit. He wrote a book about the history of the caste system that attacked its continued practice among Durban Hindus, causing a storm of protest within sections of the Indian community in South Africa.Govender moved to London with his wife, Saras Naicker, and got a job with BBC radio.Highlights of his career at the BBC were interviews with Louis Armstrong, singer Eartha Kitt and a very young Muhammad Ali. He ended his journalistic career as editor of the London-based West Indian Times and Asian Times.He is survived by his son, Krishie, a producer of TV documentaries.1931- 2016

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