Charles Pillai

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Charles Pillai (1953-2010) was a lawyer, actor and playwright.


Pillai studied at the University of Durban-Westville, majoring in both Speech and Drama and Private Law and attaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1975. This was followed with a B.Proc degree from the University of South Africa in 1979 while he was completing his clerkship. In 2001 he graduated with an LLB from the University of South Africa. This was followed by an LLM in Administrative and Constitutional Law at the University of Pretoria in March 2004.

He started his legal career in the early 80s in Chatsworth, south of Durban, with a general law practice which included litigation, property and commercial law. In the later 90s he joined the Legal Resources Centre, a public interest law firm, where he was director of the Pretoria office. In 2004 he became the country's first Ombud for Financial Services Providers and on 1 April 2010 was made Pension Funds Adjudicator. Sadly, Pillai passed away of cancer on 6 November 2010. He had at one time been married to the actress and playwright Saira Essa.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

On addition to his professional career in the law, Pillai was also a part-time actor and a playwright.

As a playwright he co-wrote two plays with his then wife, Saira Essa, namely Steve Biko - The Inquest and The James Commission. Both plays were based on actual court records and Pillai himself played "Amichand Rajbansi" in the first production of The James Commission, directed by Essa. He also helped to devise a musical on the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

He acted in several films, including A Dry White Season and The Making of the Mahatma.

Other professional roles include Christie in Love, Canterbury Tales, The Primary English Class and the musical on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, which he helped to devise.


Steve Biko: The Inquest programme notes, circa 1986.

Sunday Independent, 7 November 2010.

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