Thulkana Palan was born in uMzinto in 1933 and moved to Durban in 1963. After a short stay in Clairwood, he moved into Havenside, Chatsworth, where he has lived for the past 52 years. Palan was one of 12 siblings, but was the only child to attend high school and receive his Senior Certificate. He received bursaries to complete both his Junior Certificate and Senior Certificate.
As a child and teenager he was forced to work on the farm during the school holidays. If he had refused to work, his family would have been threatened with being thrown off the farm. Thulkana Palan is a first-generation South African Indian. His father arrived in South Africa in 1907 as an indentured labourer to work on the sugar cane farms on the South Coast. Palan’s first job was as a clerk in the motor industry, working for a panel beater. He attended various training courses and eventually become the section manager. In 1978, Palan started an estate agency in partnership with a friend, and wrote the first public exams for estate agents. He owned his own estate agency, Statesman Estates, for 23 years, retiring in 2001.
Palan started community work due to poor service delivery. He was a founder member of the Havenside Civic Association, serving as chairman over three periods spanning 25 years, and is now the only surviving founder member, 51 years later. For 13 years, from 1971 to 1984, Palan served on the South Durban Indian Local Affairs Committee and was chairman for three years from 1980 to 1983. He also served in the tricameral parliament from 1984 to 1994, being elected as part of the first group to serve in the House of Delegates. After the end of his parliamentary career, Palan served on the Interim Council in Durban and was then elected Ward Councillor for Ward 69 in 1999. He served as Ward Councillor for thirteen years until his retirement in 2011. His extensive community work and service for the Havenside Civic Association brought Palan into direct contact with issues affecting the community, which enabled him to respond to the needs of the community. He was instrumental in forming the Federation for the Civic Association in Chatsworth in 2010 and was the founder chairman for five years until his retirement on the 11th June 2015.
Although some people still show prejudice towards him for participating in the House of Delegates and the tricameral parliament, Palan’s motto was to “fight the system from within”. On 13th March 1985 he moved a motion for parliament to prevent 13 houses from being demolished, that the second access route into Chatsworth be diverted and go via Coedmore. The second access route never materialised and eventually the then Deputy Minister of Transport considered a cheaper alternative by widening alternative routes. In early 1970 there was no shopping centre in Havenside. Palan and members of the Havenside Civic Association made representation to the offices of the Indian Affairs for consideration to allow for the building of a shopping centre. Eventually, with representation in Parliament, the authority was granted for the development of land for a shopping centre. The Havenside Civic Association made representation for corner shops to be allowed on vacant sites to sell quick consumables. They were challenging the then town planning rules and policy. During the apartheid period, being an Indian in an Indian suburb meant nothing happened unless representation was made to the authority (council). If you did not ask and fight for it, it would not happen.
Thulkana Palan retired from active politics in 2011, but still remains involved in community work serving on a number of committees and boards. He currently serves on the Board of Management for the Chatsworth Child Welfare, and is an active member of Friends of RK Khan Hospital, where he assists with issues of concern between the public and hospital management, and helps to coordinate the decentralised dispensing of medication for chronic patients. Palan is also involved with a number of Senior Citizen Clubs in Havenside and Bayview where he assists with projects and offers financial support.
Aside from being a founding member of both the Havenside Civic Association and the Federation for the Civic Association in Chatsworth, he also assisted with a local pre-school for more than two decades until it was taken over by the Department of Education.
Now retired, Thulkana is using his years of experience to help residents with their day-to-day issues. Referred to locally as a sadhu, he is a trusted member of his community, helping people with everything from pension applications to filling out documentation for land claims.
It is people like Thulkana Palan who turn roads and buildings into neighbourhoods and communities, places where people feel that they really belong.