Five decades of sweat, tears and commitment

Sonny Pillay (right) has mentored and taught thousands of children in the art of karate.

Five decades of selfless sacrifice, sweat and dedicated community service by the president of Karate South Africa (KSA), Presothan (Sonny) Pillay, to his fellow country men and women will culminate in a grand celebration at the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom on Saturday.

Despite being born in abject poverty in an agricultural village in the rural area of KwaZulu-Natal and growing up in hardship with barely no food to eat, only surviving on fruit to sustain himself, Pillay has beaten the odds and has become the face and ambassador of the martial arts sport – Karate – in South Africa which requires much discipline and dedication.

In trying to shape the future of today’s youth, Pillay and his partner, Anita, a trustee, hosted almost 1000 youth from the informal settlement of Durban and its surrounding areas at the Global Youth Focus programme in 2016 in partnership with the Durban University of Technology. 

His indomitable spirit to survive and never throwing in the towel has separated him from the madding crowd. His deep humility, love for the people and simplicity has given him the opportunity to rub shoulders with South Africa’s top socialites, politicians, religious and community leaders and even the ordinary  people.

His first serious love in sports was the game of golf after being a caddie for 10 years in the village of Springfield. In 1967, he was ranked one of the top three amateur golfers in South Africa. In 1968, he first heard the word karate by some of the elders in the village who were already practicing the martial art.

ALSO READ: KSA president addresses karate at world congress

Soon thereafter, Pillay was well entrenched in the practice of karate. In 1971, ‘Karate’ Sonny as he soon came to be known, established his own karate club with some fellow colleagues at the St Anthony’s Church in the Durban City Centre.

The karate maestro then visited London in pursuit of excellence in the sport. Sonny thereafter given that he was receiving no support from the privileged few ‘Whites’ in the sport, travelled regularly abroad despite his small earnings as a clerk at Dunlop Tyres and was successful in obtaining international recognition for his school.

Sonny Pillay was bestowed the honorary 8th Dan Professors rank by the world president during the SNR World Cup in Bremen, Germany, for outstanding services rendered in the fields of arts and culture. This was a first for South Africa and a first for a person of Indian origin worldwide.

Later, Pillay then embarked on a huge project by inviting the world’s greatest karate grandmaster Kanazawa Soke to South Africa as his personal guest. The tour proved to be the turning point in the life of Pillay and his karate organisation.

SKISA started to afford Pillay and his organisation the respect they deserved. Over the years, Pillay received many prestigious accolades in his field. In 1999, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Indian Festival Committee of New York.

In 2011, he received a Community Service Award from the Rotary Organisation of SA. The following year, he was bestowed the Sports Excellence Award for outstanding contribution made by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in South Africa.

In 2013, he was honoured by the Child Welfare Society of Phoenix for social outreach projects viz the feeding scheme for the less fortunate.

He is the only person on the African continent and the first and only Indian in the world to have been awarded an 8th Dan black belt rank by the World Karate Federation.

In 2003, amidst other big karate developments, Sonny and his organisation, SKISA hosted the karate World Cup at the ICC in Durban with a record 53 countries in attendance for the sports event. He also led several national SA teams around the globe to over 50 countries as head of delegation at various karate international events.

He also received the prestigious Ammen Award from the Mariammen Temple in Mt Edgecombe in the field of sport. Recently, he was appointed to the Technical Commission of the World Karate Federation(WKF).

He also received the Commendation Award from Karate Association of India (KAI) in recognition of 50 glorious years in the karate field. To date, Hanshi Pillay regularly conducts free karate workshops throughout the country since the inception of his organisation.


Vivaga Thambiran
News editor

Latest News


Recommended Story x
Another accolade for karate expert