Phyllis Naidoo was born in Estcourt, in KwaZulu-Natal in 1928. From an early age she was active in the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM). As a student, and later a teacher at Natal University (Non-European section), she organised a Human Rights Committee which helped to raise funds for the 1956 Treason Triallists and their families.
Naidoo was a member of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) and with her husband, MD Naidoo and Govan Mbeki, did underground support work for ANC cadres. After being placed under a banning order and house arrest in March 1966, she began to study law. She qualified as a lawyer in 1973. She set up her legal practice when her banning order was lifted in 1976. She made a point of employing ex-Robben Island prisoners in her practice including at one stage Jacob Zuma, the current President of the ANC.
On 23 July 1977, Naidoo was forced to flee South Africa to Lesotho, where she continued to work for the ANC, and was involved in welfare work, providing for children who had left South Africa. Naidoo assisted members of the SACP and ANC to escape from South Africa, and provided support for them as well as to the scores of youth skipping the borders in the aftermath of the Soweto student uprisings.
While in Lesotho, Naidoo was Chief Legal Aid Counsel for the Lesotho Government. But she was forced to leave Lesotho in 1983 when South Africa led air strikes against Lesotho and all its twelve border posts were closed. In 1983, she fled to Zimbabwe where she continued her political activities for the ANC, wrote speeches for comrades, taught at the Law Department of the University of Zimbabwe and helped people from South Africa.
She was actively involved in campaigning against the abuse of power by the apartheid government. Naidoo was particularly concerned with prisoners, both political and criminal, on death row. She wrote Waiting to Die in Pretoria, which decried the inhumanity of capital punishment and Le Rona Re Batho, an account of the 1982 Maseru Massacre.
In 1990, Naidoo returned to South Africa and continued to write and record the history of the struggle as she experienced it during her time in the country and in exile. Her last publication was Footsteps in Grey Street. She passed away on 13 February 2013.