Another unsung hero from our anti-colonial struggle in the 1950s and early 1960s has left us. Unlike the victors of history, Said Zahari, age 88, went quietly as he had done for the most part of his life, be it when he was fighting against the British for Singapore’s independence or when he sat in prison for 17 years under Lee Kuan Yew’s rule.
His calm demeanour belied a spirit of steel that saw him bear the cruelty of long imprisonment without trial and yet not for a moment compromising on his principles to seek release from incarceration.
Pak Said had publicly called Lee Kuan Yew “a political coward”. He had said only a coward would resort to jailing his opponents instead of taking them in a political contestation of ideas and letting the best man win.
Pak Said was editor-in-chief of the Malay-language Utusan Melayu who led the 93-day strike for editorial independence in 1961. He was elected president of Partai Rakyat just one day before he was arrested in Operation Cold Store on 2 February 1963. He was much feared by the PAP as he was held in high esteem by both the English-speaking and the Chinese-speaking people, not to mention the Malays. His proficiency in the three languages contributed to his popularity among the electorate.
I had the privilege of having met him a couple of times in his home in Kuala Lumpur a few years back. Despite his ill health, he was cheerful and gentle as always and contemplated coming down to Singapore to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Operation Cold Store at Hong Lim Speakers’ Corner. His physical immobility thwarted that plan but he never stopped receiving streams of visitors from Singapore and elsewhere in Malaysia and the rest of the world.
May you rest in peace, Pak Said.
Dr Wong Souk Yee
Singapore Democratic Party