From the Special Provincial Official Funeral Programme for the late
Cde Reggie Vandeyar
Reggie Vandeyar, the youngest of eight children, was born on 15 July 1931 in Newclare, Johannesburg. His father died when he was just eleven months old leaving his mother to raise the family.
His early life was characterised by abject poverty which left him barefoot, poorly dressed and constantly hungry. One day, while strolling around town and hustling for money with his friend, Paul Joseph, they were directed to the offices of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). They were told that if they distributed leaflets, they would be given some food. This was Reggie’s first political experience – at the age of twelve – and a turning point in his early life. It set off a lifetime commitment to the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa.
Reggie joined the young Communist League (YCL) in 1943 and attended the weekly meetings held by the CPSA on the City Hall steps. He heard speeches of leading communists such a Joe Slovo, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Ruth First and Moses Kotane, who greatly influenced his thinking.
Reggie found work at the Ambassador Hotel as a porter. Over the years he was promoted to floor-waiter, dining-room waiter and senior waiter. At work he politicized a number of Indian and African workers who had grievances and got them to join the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and the black trade union movement. While working at the Red Lantern in Fordsburg, he met and fell in love with his wife, Asoo. The couple lived in Fordsburg and their two children, Sushila and Karuna, were both born at 36A Park Road.
During his free time he attended public meetings at the “Red Square” in Fordsburg and sold copies of the Clarion and New Age. Reggie was formally recruited into the Transvaal Indian Congress in 1948 and participated in the Defiance Campaign of 1952. He was a delegate to the Congress of the People held on the 25-26 June 1955 in Kliptown, where the Freedom Charter was adopted.
Following the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960, a state of emergency was declared and the ANC and other liberation movements were banned. This forced thousands of Congress Alliance activists to operate clandestinely or to go into exile. Reggie, a disciplined and trusted comrade, was an early recruit into the underground of the South African Communist Party (SACP). His unit was led by Wolfie Kodesh and included Laloo “Isu” Chiba and Paul Joseph. The unit concentrated on sabotage of telephone lines.
During the latter half of 1961, the SACP’s sabotage units were instructed to disband and to become part of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). The reconstituted unit was composed of the same individuals, except that Wolfie now reported to the Johannesburg Regional Command of MK. Reggie took part in the bombing of three targets on the night of MK’s formation on 16 December 1961. As a result of the bombings, the Special Branch raided Reggie’s house and found potassium permanganate powder and a rusted gas pistol in his toolbox. He was charged on a count of possession of a firearm and explosive material and sentenced to fifty pounds on each count.
Upon his release Reggie was asked to form his own MK unit and he recruited Indres Naidoo and Shirish Nanabhai, both executive members of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress. Subsequently Shirish, Indres and Reggie executed and number of acts of sabotage. On 17 April 1963, the unit had planned to bomb a signal box at the Riverlea railway station. Just after placing the explosive and lighting the fuse, the whole area lit up and police surrounded them. The unit had been betrayed by an informer, Gamat Jardine, who had infiltrated the unit with the promise of providing explosives and guns.
Reggie and his fellow unit members were brutally tortured, which inflicted lifelong damage to his back and spine. They were among the first to be charged under the Sabotage Act. Justice Bekker sentenced Reggie, Shirish and Indres each to ten years imprisonment which they served in the General Section of Robben Island with fellow comrades such as Henry “Squire” Makgothi, Jacob Zuma, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, James Chirwa and Henry Fazzie.
When Reggie was released in 1973, he was banned and put under house arrest. In spite of the banning order and house arrest, Reggie continued to play an active political role and was instrumental in the revival in the mid-1980s of the TIC and the establishment of the United Democratic Front (UDF). After the expiry of his second, five year banning order, he was elected as one of the Vice-Presidents of the TIC.
Reggie’s crowning moment of honour came in 2002, when he received from the former Minister of Defence, the late Joe Modise, and the former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, MK’s gold, silver and bronze medals for long and distinguished service in the struggle. In 2014, President Zuma awarded to him the Order of Mendi (Silver) for his remarkable bravery during the struggle against apartheid and for striving for a free and democratic South Africa.
Reggie passed away at the age of 84 on 17 September 2015. He is survived by his wife, Assoo, and two children, Sushila and Karuna.
Hamba Kahle Comrade Reggie
– revolutionary, MK combatant and working class hero!