Greg Arde wrote this story for The Mercury in 2008, five years before the ANC stalwart died. Phyllis Naidoo says she hates the culture of hero worship in the ANC. The bustle of Umbilo Road is carried into her veranda on the breeze that wafts into her ground-floor flat. The struggle veteran, who will turn 80 in January, is many things to many people. Born in Pietermaritzburg to a Catholic family of 10 children, she became a lawyer and, to do no justice to a long and illustrious story, was bombed in Lesotho and lived in exile. She looked after Jacob Zuma when he was released from Robben Island, offered refuge to Judge Albie Sachs in Harare, received the Order of Luthuli from Thabo Mbeki, got a digital camera for Christmas from Derek Hanekom and reminded Greg Ardé of his beloved grandmother. In the grand scheme of things, the latter is important to nobody but me, and apologies for the sentimentally, but spending time with Naidoo transported me back to my grandmother’s Umbilo flat, down the road. My grandmother was a legend in her neighbourhood. She took in strays and orphans and was forever feeding people. She was a no-nonsense woman with a sharp tongue who cherished punctuality and washing behind your ears. But she also had big loving arms and a sense of mischief that delighted children. Phyllis Naidoo is a similar gem; a straight-talking, warm, hospitable community spirit. Her spotlessly clean flat is like an ANC scrapbook. Her walls are adorned with photographs and mementoes of the struggle: personal artefacts of her life story that is entwined with the greats of the struggle. But unlike many liberation heroes, Naidoo does not wallow in new wealth and stories that aggrandise her role in the struggle. Naidoo has written seven books commemorating the role of mostly ordinary people in the anti-apartheid struggle. Her life and sacrifice epitomise the struggle. Her husband was jailed on Robben Island and she lost two of her three children to apartheid. Sitting behind her table on the veranda in Umbilo Road, chugging on Benson and Hedges, Naidoo says she hates the culture of hero worship and wealth accumulation in the ANC. Democracy, she says, is wonderful, but let us fix the squatter camps before we get caught up in celebrations. Democracy is also not a vague concept either. It is about street-level remedies for day-to-day problems. Naidoo says she recently took black bin bags to the park next door and briefly convinced hobos living there to help her clean up. "In Mozambique Samora Machel picked up the dirt himself. Ask Albie Sachs, he did it with him." In Cuba, she says, she saw a medical doctor mowing the hospital lawns. "My grandfather used to say, 'It is easy for the mouth to talk, but much harder for the hands to work.' " Our interview is interrupted by unexpected visitors. Naidoo answers the intercom. "Do not sweetheart me, you bastard! Where were you on Saturday?" Suitably sheepish, the big man flops in, grinning. "Sorry, Aunty Phyllis." The guest brings a friend who is obviously excited to meet Naidoo and wraps her in an enthusiastic embrace. "I am so honoured to meet such an important woman," he says. Naidoo clucks through the gush, hugging back warmly: "But hey, watch my glasses, and my false teeth and my boobs." She says she has written Footprints: Beyond Grey Street as a "cop out" to avoid focusing on the succession debate, though ironically it directs our conversation to where the ANC is going wrong in South Africa. The book is a collection of stories commemorating the contribution of ordinary people in the struggle for democracy, people who don't have monuments in their honour. Naidoo is loyal to the ANC, but unstinting in her criticism: "These are people I love. That is why I can swear the bastards . . . you cannot rest on your laurels . . . My friends want to throw an 80th party for me and I said to them, 'You can bring the booze and get p..... out of your minds, but what about the people who do not have a roof over their heads when it rains?” In the preface to Naidoo's book, academic and political commentator Kiru Naidoo writes: "These are simple stories about simple people who changed the course of history," penned by a woman with a wicked tongue whose "hospitality . . . and wide open doors of her home and heart are firmly etched in the annals of the liberation history of our country".