The sudden passing of Vrajlal Harry, who emerged as the epitome of printing and publishing, shook the Eastern cape.
He left an unforgettable commitment to education and training. His death is a great loss to the communities across the province and beyond.
He took his business to greater heights and paved the way to his peers, but more than that, Harry as a person had an unimaginable impact to the people of the Eastern Cape with his unpretentious, caring character. Harry would be long remembered for his passion for strengthening community life, innovation in the print media as well as his contribution as an educationist and writer.
He was also an extraordinary person, known for his affinity towards mass democratic structures in the country as well as his own contribution towards the liberation struggle in the country. During apartheid, his family moved to the newly designated Indian area of Braelyn. The Harry family was extremely active in that community. Vrij’s grandfather Lalloo Harry and his sons Ramlal and Mohan were amongst the founders of the East London Hindu society, and they continued to support the society to protect its traditions and values.
May be this sow the seeds of courage and leadership in young Harry to stand against one of the cruellest systems of legislation that upheld segregationist policies. He may not have involved in the frontline fight against the discriminatory regime but being a careful and astute learner of the contemporary politics, certainly contributed relentlessly for the implementation of the democratic processes in South Africa.
This automatically brought Harry closer to the African National Congress and other liberations movements. He was never ashamed to declare his bias towards the movement and its ultimate objectives. He was not only a staunch activist but was prepared to assist the movement whenever the need arose. During early 1990’s in the new developments unfolded in the state, like many other intellectuals, Vrij (as he was affectionately called) with his vast experience in training and publishing, heavily assisted ANC in preparing to install a government of people’s choice. This was evident in almost all state of province addresses by various Premiers of the Eastern Cape Province, where Harry’s smiling face was a common scene.
Harry’s printers have been a landmark in East London since 1929. Vrij’s father Mohan Harry’s vision and hard work changed a mere shoe repair store to a printing company mostly to publish religious books for his father, Laloo Harry, an internationally renowned philosopher, and author. But it is Vrij’s commitment and aspirations helped the company to leapfrog into the ranks of leading printing firms in the country. Considering the challenges faced in the print media in the past, his excellent success in the field of printing was remarkable.
Harry is one of the external role-players significantly contributed to the establishment of a credible matric examination system in the province. The study guides and other learning support materials produced by his publishing firm made a huge impact in improving the NSC examination results of the province with its majority of schools in poor rural communities characterised with limited access to learning materials.
He was a champion in establishing partnerships with prominent role players in education including labour unions like SADTU. Harry was among the first people to realise the importance of mother-tongue in learning Mathematics and similar subjects. This prompted to him to publish study guides for Mathematics in IsiXhosa, a hard task well appreciated by the learning communities across the country.
One can go on and on in describing his immense contribution to our beautiful province and indeed our rainbow nation.
As a person who was very fortunate to witness his progressive ideas, and was able to enjoy its windfalls, I can only say, let Vraj’s legacy continue to inspire many others more than ever.
Anilkumar Kesava Pillai is an ANC MPL at the Bisho legislature and a PEC member of the SACP (EC). He writes in his personal capacity.