Farewell to a struggle hero

Tributes flow at funeral of anti-apartheid activist Jay Moodliar, who worked tirelessly for justice

The funeral of anti-apartheid activist Dr Jayaseelan Moodliar, inset, was held at the Walmer Town Hall yesterday
The funeral of anti-apartheid activist Dr Jayaseelan Moodliar, inset, was held at the Walmer Town Hall yesterday
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

A man with many talents who worked selflessly to serve his community and bring about positive change was how Dr Jayaseelan Moodliar was remembered during an emotive funeral service yesterday.

One of 13 children, Moodliar went from modest beginnings, growing up on a smallholding in Umzinto, KwaZulu-Natal, to achieve acclaim for his persistence in fighting racial discrimination while advocating for a free and fair society.

Speaking at his funeral at the Walmer Town Hall, businessman Saki Macozoma said Moodliar’s work and support during the tumultuous apartheid era should be celebrated and revered.

“My first experience with Jay was when I returned from Robben Island [in 1982],” he said.

“I had a minor medical issue to be looked at and went to see him at his practice in Korsten – we spent more time speaking about politics rather than the medical issue.”

He said it was unusual for someone with a medical background to be so well versed in politics.

“There are many people like him that are not celebrated. His work and support are immeasurable,” he said.

Moodliar studied physics at the University of Fort Hare and graduated in 1960. It was there that he met his wife of 57 years, Manogari.

After a short stint teaching, Moodliar completed a medical qualification at the then University of Natal in 1966 before he and his family moved to Port Elizabeth.

Former The Herald Citizen of the Year category winner Dr Jeff Govender, who was an intern at Livingstone Hospital in the early 1980s, said Moodliar had been very well-known in Port Elizabeth at that time.

Govender said Moodliar had been approached by activist Molly Blackburn to assist with activist Simphiwe Mtimkulu, who had been poisoned by the apartheid regime.

Govender said he had been immensely saddened to learn about Moodliar’s death. “He was a legend in the Port Elizabeth community,” he said .

During the 1970s, Moodliar helped found the Malabar Ratepayers’ and Tenants’ Association and while working with similar organisations, he helped in the formation of the Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (Pebco) led by Thozamile Botha. This foreshadowed the later creation of the United Democratic Front and mass-movement politics in the 1980s.

During this period, Moodliar was also a leading figure in the founding of the future Mass Democratic Movement-affiliated National Medical and Dental Association.
Botha, who met Moodliar in 1979, said yesterday that the doctor who treated numerous apartheid activists had played a critical role in political activism.

“I respect and hold him in high esteem for the role he played in this country,” Botha said.

Former Nelson Mandela University council chairman Judge Ronnie Pillay said he had felt “extremely intimidated about speaking of such a great man” when he was invited to speak at the funeral.

“Jay displayed an acute sense of justice and fairness in life,” Pillay said.

“He lived by an ethos of non-racialism rather than multiracialism [and] he never forgot where he came from.”

Recalling some of his experiences with him, Pillay said Moodliar had never shied away from helping those in need.

“I would call him when we had an injured activist.

“He would remove the bullet – if the injury was more severe he would organise to have the injured person taken to hospital at the risk of losing his licence.

“That was not his focus. His focus was to assist in changing society,” Pillay said.

In 1993, Moodliar suffered a heart attack and had to undergo surgery.

He never fully recovered, but continued with his practice, while stepping back from politics.

Moodliar was taken to hospital two weeks ago and died in the early hours of May 10.

He is survived by Manogari and children Suren, Sureshni and Cumeshan and several grandchildren.