By Neville Grimmet
When Manickum Nadarajan Pather – better known as MN Pather – decided to take up tennis in 1945, little did he realise that his decision would put him on the road to becoming one of South Africa’s leading campaigners for non-racial sport.
Pather became one of the country’s most prominent sports administrators whose views were sought after internationally. His crusade for South Africa’s expulsion from international sport until apartheid was scrapped led to his family’s victimisation by the apartheid government. He was prevented from travelling overseas because of the government’s refusal to grant him a passport. Despite this MN Pather stood firm in his belief that there could be “no normal sport in an abnormal society”.
M.N. Pather played little sport in school but his yen for tennis led him to become the prime mover in the consolidation of black tennis. In 1945, Pather became the record clerk for the Clairwood Lawn Tennis Club, and as he scaled the ladder his commitment to the principle of non-racial sport grew. In 1958 the first non-racial tennis body, the Southern African Lawn Tennis Union was formed, and Pather devoted his time, energy and money to furthering non-racialism in sport.
He was elected General Secretary of the non-racial South African Council on Sport (SACOS) and the secretary of the Tennis Association of Southern Africa.
Although some criticised his actions and his beliefs, there was no doubt about M.N. Pather’s dedication to the non-racial cause, and his sincerity.
Born in 1923 in Durban he was educated at the prestigious SASTRI College, Pather was only five years old when his father died. He and his three siblings were taken under their uncle’s wing.
At the age 27 and shortly after his marriage to Bakium, his uncle died. Pather was left with 17 dependants including his uncle’s family to support on a weekly salary of five pounds.
In 1952 he started his own estate agency but even as he struggled with his new business, MN Pather remained committed to his sports involvement. As he explained: “My fight stops the day there is non-racial sport, I’ll take my cap off and hang it on the wall because after that it becomes a political fight and I think I will have served my time.”
Despite his sporting commitments, M.N. Pather never neglected his fatherly duties. The father to four children, one daughter and three sons, was strict but loving towards his family.