Roshnie Moonsammy, writes about her dad Peter Moonsammy. She is the founder and director of Southern Africa Arts Exchange which hosts amongst other programmes, the Urban Voices, an exposure of international poetry, music and theatre- focusing on African voice on the continent and in the Diaspora.
We will all miss my dad.
He was the most selfless person that I have known and will ever know. Whilst selflessness sounds like a good virtue, it had its problems especially as it affected him. My dad would never stop for minute and think about himself and his needs.
Whilst it may sound clichéd to say that he was such a good person – as everyone will tell you – he truly was a Good person and had a lot to give. He was never boring, as you may know that some good people can be boring, no edge to them, but he was not one of those.
He was always doing things and quietly making things happen for both his family and the community at large, and sharing this with us. He was always engaging us on life and its many challenges, which in turn educated us, gave us – his children a sense of intellectual, critical thinking and substantial values of how we can live our lives with other people in the world. I will always feel an enormous pride and strength because of the teaching, and values our dad instilled within us.
My dad, although from humble working class beginnings, lived a very rich life in both ideas and life experiences, from which he learnt mainly, but not exclusively from talking and engaging people from across a wide spectrum (class etc) from all over the world. I guess that was nature of the Iyer/Joseph household.
For our family, EDUCATION was paramount, and there were very clear views about what it meant´. I am still sad that comics were frowned upon and to this day I (suffer) and cannot enjoy comics! But without comics we were happy and funny. We had an interesting house. Our house welcomed and received people of all walks of life, and colours from within the country and around the world.
Living with loving parents, a stable, a very strong grandmother – amah – all impacted profoundly on our lives. It gave us a deep sense of confidence and wisdom to face the world. I was brought up to be confident and not afraid to express a dissenting points of view in all aspects of life, personal and political – and not afraid to take on those in or with power.
And yes we did differ especially politically (I was active in the Black Consciousness youth movement in our area, whilst my father worked in the Congress Alliance organizations) but that did not change the relationship of love and trust between father and daughter. Our parents were strong but ensured that we were brought up in an environment to search and decide what was right for us by our own efforts! My dad did not want to control nor pry into our lives. We knew and learnt the lessons of our parents well: we had to behave, do well at school, be good, caring and progressive citizens, do not discriminate and exploit on grounds of race, class, gender, and far as possible avoid being in debt and try as far as possible paying cash for most things. I have touched on having a good education and to this I must add having a decent means of income -A JOB. That was my dad.
I remember when I was in standard 8 (the only one throughout my grade) I was not going on a geography excursion, because I thought it was too expensive. It was to cost my dad about – R5 or R7. And that my decision not my dad’s.
My childhood memories of my dad are enduring: always sharing whatever he had. If there was very little of something and he was eating, and we wanted it, he would give it to us – ignoring the anger of his mum and sister (our granny and late aunt violet). We were fortunate to have a set of consistent parents and a loving home and considering the times we are living in – that was a luxury.
I have fond memories since I was little of waiting for my dad to come home from work – past 10pm! You see my dad was a waiter and it was he who drove the other waiters to their homes after work and then come home to bring my sister and I a packet crisp or a chocolate… every night. I was proud of my dad and remember that when I was in grade 2 or standard 1 the teacher asked what do your parents do – I put up my hand and said “he is waiter /wine steward but he does not drink madam!” I guess unlike most Tamil waiters of his time this was a great feat and I was proud of it. I also remember times when he worked for PACKO, spice and pickles company, (Yes – some of my friends use to tease him and call him Peter Pickles) … but what I was going to say was when he worked at PACKO he he was held up and robbed, at the workplace, tied up and badly beaten. His face and eyes were swollen. However, when he got home he told us that “all I kept thinking was whether I was going to see your (Rosh) and Soobs´s birthdays.”
My dad and mum managed to achieve so much with very little – our house, education and our lives. My dad always told us interesting bedtime stories to my younger sister and I and I guess now a days developmental psychologists would place great value on this. I recall years ago when I was 13 or something and my dad went for a job interview at the new holiday inn at the airport, and one of the interesting questions the interviewing manager asked him was how could a waiter afford to have 2 children (Tony and Kalie) at university whilst this manager could not! He told him that some his kids also worked hard and got bursaries whilst others he just supported.
My dad continued to play a role in my life right through adulthood – he drove my friends around, entertained international artists in terms of my international cultural festival work – I always meet international artists and friends around the world and they always enquiring about my dad whom they too considered wonderful! He was very proud of all his children s achievements. In my work he went as far as to distribute my festival brochures and leaflets, was very upset when I was unfairly treated on the Arts Alive Project by the City of Jo’burg in the new South Africa. My dad and was always there for me and my brothers and sisters. When he departed, he knew his children were fighters in many ways and proud of what they have done with us.
His last few years, specifically the last 3 years were difficult years because our dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease that put a lot of stress on all of us but mostly on my mum. Looking at Alzheimer’s illness philosophically, I think it allowed my dad to the things he never dared when he was of so-called sound mind and body. (He spoke of people breaking into our house and of politics and political crooks and criminals…all!)
The burden on mum was heavy and she is worthy of many medals for taking care of him. But she was also stubborn and would not allow us to get outside help that would have made life easier for her. But what is done is done. He lived a rich life, had good children and a loving and strong wife- and they danced together for many years.
Dad may you rest in peace and your spirit. Keep on dancing. We love you and we can sincerely say we were truly blessed to have a dad like you.
Peter’s granddaughter Devs wrote a tribute, which we reproduce below:
I am so sad that I am not with my family at the passing away of my beloved papa, Peter. I am with all of you in spirit and prayer.
I remember Papa once saying to me that he wished he had been more qualified, more professionally skilled to so that he would have been more able to give more value to his family and community. I told him then, what I am sharing with you now: that papa would always hold a very special place in my life – the way he was. The value of his kindness and support to me as his grand child has left a legacy that is immeasurable. Papa in his humble, loving way, showed me the value of social consciousness and respect for all humanity. Yes, at times, we had healthy debates but my papa was always open to my views as well. Even though we had a large generation difference in terms of years, I always found in papa, a grandfather, who was accessible, loving and so warm-hearted. Our special connection went beyond our age difference because I always found so much to learn from my grandfather. My time living with Hama and Papa was so memorable and one that I will always cherish. In my grandfather, I found a lively companion, a giving heart and a generous nature.
I have always been so proud of my grandfather, who has made such a wonderful difference in his own, unique, special way to our struggle for justice in our society. His was a knowledge that came from the hardship and joy of ife experience with a humility that far surpassed any formal qualifications.
I will miss my papa so much but know that I am so blessed to have had him in my life for this time. He will always live on in my heart and thoughts as I continue to navigate life, all the more wiser because of his guidance and unconditional love. May he be at peace and know that his life was of immense worth and contribution that will always continue on.
Om Shanti, my papa
love, Devs, always “YOUR Lady D”