Patricia Pillay obituary

Other lives: Secretary and teacher who campaigned against apartheid after leaving South Africa for the UK

My mother, Patsy (Patricia) Pillay, who has died aged 96, came to the UK from South Africa in the late 1940s, working for many years as a secretary and then as a secretarial teacher while simultaneously supporting the anti-apartheid movement in her former home.

Patsy was born in Gibeon in South West Africa (now known as Namibia) to Alexander Truebig and his wife, Rose (nee Epstein). From the age of four up to 16 she was educated with her sisters, Cecilia and Pauline, and her brother, Christopher, at a convent in the city of Newcastle in South Africa. After her schooling she moved to Johannesburg, where she became a stenographer, working in the courts. During this period she joined the South African communist party, where she met Vella Pillay, who was working as a clerk.

They were married in 1948 and moved to Britain the same year, just before the National party came into power in South Africa and began to introduce apartheid, under which their mixed marriage would have been illegal.

In London Vella became an economist and Patsy worked at the Indian High Commission, where she was secretary to the high commissioner, Krishna Menon. Throughout the 50s she and Vella also worked in a voluntary capacity on publications such as New Age and the African Communist, writing articles and helping with their clandestine distribution in South Africa. They were involved in the early movement to boycott South African goods, which eventually became the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and they opened up their house to South African friends and comrades who passed through London.

After a period at home looking after her two young children, in 1965 Patsy took a teacher training course and began teaching secretarial skills at Downhills secondary modern school in Tottenham, north London, then at a private secretarial college in Hampstead until her retirement in 1985.

Following Vella’s death in 2004, she continued with her wide and varied interests and friendships and became active in the Labour party.

She is survived by her two children, Deenan and me, and five grandchildren.

Anand Pillay

The GuardianTramp

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