La Mercy Ratepayers & Civic Association LMRCA pays tribute to Billy Nair

The life of Billy Nair

(27 November 1929 – 23 October 2008)


LMRCA salutes Billy Nair, a servant-leader of South Africa. He was a man of substance who dedicated his entire life to the liberation of South Africa. Billy and Elsie Nair settled down here in La Mercy and lived amongst us. Many of us will remember that Billy Nair was imprisoned on Robben Island for 20 years. Many will also remember his heroic deeds in the 1980s when SA faced a total onslaught of repression by the apartheid regime, that he was detained and assaulted, that he had to go ‘underground’ and lead the internal struggle and operations. For those too young to remember, the LMRCA provides this chronology of his life of service and sacrifice for you to know.


1946–1994 The Struggle Years

1946  Joins Dairy Workers Union, at age 17.

1950 Becomes the full time Secretary of the Dairy Workers Union.

1952 Elected to Natal Indian Congress- NIC Executive Committee.

1952 Organizer of Defiance Campaign, arrested and imprisoned for 1 month.

1953 Joins the SA Communist Party.

1955 Elected to 1st Executive Committee of SA Congress of Trade Unions- SACTU.

1955 Organizer, speaker at the Congress of the People held in Kliptown, Freedom Charter drafted.

1956 Charged with Treason with 155 leaders. Faces a long trial. Acquitted, the state’s case folds.

1961 Founding member of uMkhonto we Sizwe and deputy commander of MK Natal region.

1963 Charged with Sabotage.

1964 Sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

1964-1984 Serves his 20 year sentence on Robben Island. He is a political prisoner with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and other leaders.

1984 Released from Robben Island after 20 years. Immediately resumes political work, addresses rallies, educates and mentors new Activists.

1984 One of the UDF Consulate Six who occupied the British Consulate, for 3 months – to draw international attention to draconian laws and arbitrary detentions in SA. The UDF leaders were Archie Gumede, George Sewpersadh, Paul David, Mewa Ramgobin & MJ Naidoo.

1985 Addresses the mass rally at Orient Hall, under a repressive climate and heightened fear. Unbeknown, the Security Branch had infiltrated and had secretly recorded the rally. SA is in a State of Emergency, gripped by violent instability. A rampant and relentless SA Police & SADF spread terror across the Townships and on activists, as grassroots activism grows.

1986-1990 Goes ‘underground’ and takes command of the internal underground structures of the ANC. SA enters 2nd State of Emergency. Dangerous times with spies amidst, and many comrades detained or missing.

1987 Fully engaged in the political freedom struggle of the UDF, NIC, ANC, and of Trade Unions & Civic Organisations.

1987 Participates in Operation Vula, aimed to secretly insert into SA the key exiled leaders.

1987 Exits SA secretly to attend the Conference of the banned SACP, in Cuba.

1987 Sets up and becomes Director of the Labour and Economic Research Project (LERP) and Centre for Community and Labour Studies (CCLS).

1990 Emerges from ‘underground’, upon the unbanning of the ANC and political organizations by the Apartheid regime. Is charged together with 9 others for Operation Vula and put on trial. The Vula Trial closed after Nelson Mandela intervened and all were granted indemnity. His health takes a heavy toll. He suffers a severe heart attack, undergoes cardiac surgery.

1991 Elected to the ANC NEC the historic conference held at UDW.

1992 Buys a modest flat and sets up his first home with Elsie at the seaside complex of La Mercy Village.

1994-2004 ANC Member of Parliament, National Assembly. Begins the next journey as legislator to reconstruct and develop the new SA.


Seated L-R: Billy Nair, Nelson Mandela, Elsie Nair

Standing L-R: Graça Machel, Maggie Govender, Ahmed Kathrada


1992-2008 The Rainbow Years

The sea-side village of La Mercy can proudly claim Billy Nair as one of their own. Fondly nicknamed Muna (brother), Billy Nair and Elsie his wife and fellow stalwart, came to La Mercy in 1992 where they set up home. After five decades of sacrifice and a life dedicated to the liberation of our country, La Mercy, came to be the chosen home for this humble hero of the people. It was from here, in the safety of a free non-racial SA, that Billy and Elsie would travel to Parliament, or engage with their wide circle of friends and activists who became family. It was here, that Billy and Elsie received national and international leaders, community and political activists, who came to seek his counsel on the socio-economic development of SA, to remove inequality and poverty and dismantle apartheid laws. Drawn by his photographic memory, quick wit and razor-sharp political analysis, Billy was always surrounded by eager minds. Many leaders and officials today owe their ideological development and people-centred values to his mentorship.

Time held no stops for Billy Nair. He was a tireless leader and mentor. Whether he was explaining Marx or Lenin, or his views on organizing and conscientizing, or his experiences on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, or even his various missions, perils and disguises – often recounted with much humor in his deep, calm voice – there was no stopping him. The political education continued well into the night, disturbed only by the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks outside.

Personal space, time and comfort, were of little need. After the years of imprisonment, years underground and being on the road organizing, Billy optimized, doing his all for others, asking very little for himself. This fortified him during the sit-in protest at the British Consulate in Durban. The six leaders were restricted by the Consulate to a small office room which became their only living quarters for three months.

Billy Nair did not falter nor compromise as he pursued his vision for a free, non-racial, and democratic SA. Throughout his life, he remained disciplined, principled and unwavering, guided always by the Freedom Charter and later the Constitution Bill of Rights. He lived a simple life, unaffected by the material trappings of life. A warm and hearty person, he epitomized the values of respect for human dignity and believed in the equality of all people regardless of race, religion, status, class or gender.

Billy Nair is undoubtedly, one of the great founding fathers of our free and democratic country. The chronology of his life history bears testimony to this. It is often remarked that fate favoured SA, in having a class of men and women born of the same generation who possessed a wisdom, a character and a vision to free our country from oppression. Billy Nair was certainly one of that special league.

LMRCA is honoured and proud that Billy and Elsie Nair chose to make La Mercy their home – Two extraordinary and inspiring patriots who lived in our midst. We thank Muna and Aunty Elsie for the rights and freedoms we now enjoy as full and equal citizens. We the LMRCA pledge to be guided always, by their example in serving the people of La Mercy!