3 April 2014, Merebank, KZN
The Naicker family
Leadership of SADTU, ANC and Alliance structures
Merebank community members
Comrades, Ladies and gentlemen
My sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Poobi Naicker. It is an honour for me to stand here to say a few words about my long-time friend and comrade. Thank you for inviting me.
To family and friends, I realise that nothing we say can take away the pain that death brings in its wake.
But we can offer the perspective that – even though Poobi is no longer with us – he lived a long and productive life. A life well-lived is a triumph. Let me quote from the German communist poet, Bertolt Brecht:
“Do not fear death so much, but rather fear the inadequate life.”
American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Junior put it differently when he said:
“If a man hasn`t discovered something that he will die for, he isn`t fit to live.”
Poobi Naicker was such a man. We can all celebrate this life spent in service to education and teacher unionism. As the first Deputy President of SADTU, Poobi played a vital role in building the mighty South African Democratic Teachers Union – with a current membership of over quarter of a million.
I will pause for a moment here to declare a personal interest. When it comes to Comrade Poobi I am very biased. There was a time when Poobi was acting as my personal physician. When I was first diagnosed with diabetes many years ago, it was Comrade Poobi who took it upon himself to monitor my health and well-being. At every meeting he would interrogate me on my diet – what I was eating; what I was drinking – keeping me on the straight and narrow. This small example should tell us a lot about the man himself. He cared. And it was this humanitarian spirit that inspired his political, community and trade union commitment over the years.
I first met Comrade Poobi during the teacher unity talks in the 1980s. Even before the unbanning of the ANC, Poobie had maintained contact with the movement in exile and this, I believe, had helped him to develop a broad vision for teacher unity and the establishment of a national non-racial teacher union. This was not an easy vision to carry at the time, and it certainly met resistance from some conservative quarters in his own organization. Comrade Poobi was not to be deterred however.
Let me say a few words about the role that Poobi played in the historic teacher unity talks. Remember in those days – as teachers – we were divided along racial, geographical, political and even generational lines. We had to forge unity out of very different traditions and approaches.
This is where Comrade Poobi`s role was invaluable, as a go-between, mediating between the young firebrands – like myself – and the more established teacher leaders. It is no exaggeration to say that the degree of unity we were able to achieve was in no small part due to the role played by Comrade Poobi.
At a time like the present – when the labour movement is plagued by factionalism and divisions – we need people of the caliber of Poobi – comrades who understand the need for unity and are committed to defending that unity at all cost.
Poobi was the last president of TASA – the Teachers Association of South Africa – a federation of Indian teachers. A lesser man might have wanted to hold on to that position and to protect petty personal interests. Not Comrade Poobi. His vision was much bigger than that – he foresaw the development of a mighty national non-racial union of educators – the present day SADTU, and he was willing to do what was necessary to realize that dream.
Under Poobi`s leadership, TASA was the only national organization to fully dissolve into the new union, SADTU. The new union also benefited from the secondment of TASA staff. You will remember Comrade Ron Naidoo who served SADTU as National Administrator from its inception until his untimely death in 2005. And of course, here in KZN, the Provincial SADTU office benefited greatly from the tireless and devoted work of Mrs Pillay, who retired in 2005. Let us never forget the contribution made by these stalwarts.
At SADTU`s founding congress in 1990, Comrade Poobi was elected as the first Deputy President of SADTU.
As Deputy President of the newly formed SADTU, Poobi threw himself into the mundane work of building the union. He continued his role of promoting communication between people and between groups which haled from very different traditions.
In those days there were no perks for this kind of work. There was no grandstanding, just the hard graft of going out to branches and sites to build organization, explain positions and seek mandates. Even as he neared retirement from active service, Comrade Poobi continued to give of his best. After retirement he continued to serve the union, taking an active role in the SADTU Investment Trust.
Just a few final words about the man himself. For me Comrade Poobi epitomized all that is best in our movement: self sacrifice in the cause of freedom and justice. As a teacher leader, Poobi managed to combine a commitment to professionalism with a commitment to the wider struggle of the workers. He always reminded us that as teachers we have a duty to our learners and that to realize this means continuing professional development.
But Poobi was never one to exalt professional status to a point where we look down on those who work with their hands. Perhaps we can trace this to his rural origins and personal knowledge of poverty and exploitation. Comrade Poobi was clear on this, that as teachers our interests lie with all the oppressed, the poor and the working class.
We thank Poobi for his years of service to the movement, and we pay tribute for the role he played in building teacher trade unionism.
May his soul rest in peace.
Hamba Kahle Comrade Poobi.