‘Awake and arise from your slum­ber’

Post - - Opinion - BRIJ MA­HARAJ Pro­fes­sor Brij Ma­haraj is a ge­og­ra­phy pro­fes­sor at UKZN. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

HAMBA khaya! Hamba uye eBom­bay – Go home! Go home to Mum­bai!

Novem­ber marks the 157th an­niver­sary of the ar­rival of in­den­tured labour­ers from In­dia to toil in the cane fields of Na­tal.

This year also marks the cen­tury since in­den­ture was abol­ished. This is an ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ment to re­flect on the chal­lenges fac­ing this com­mu­nity.

South African In­di­ans con­sti­tute a vul­ner­a­ble eth­nic mi­nor­ity, and have been “sand­wiched” be­tween the eco­nom­i­cally dom­i­nant whites, and the African ma­jor­ity.

His­tor­i­cally, there have been ten­sions be­tween In­di­ans and Africans, be­cause the for­mer en­joyed a rel­a­tively priv­i­leged po­si­tion com­pared with the ma­jor­ity, pri­mar­ily be­cause of com­mu­nity sur­vival strate­gies. The re­cent anti-In­dian sen­ti­ments at­trib­uted to Julius Malema, the Maz­ibuye African Fo­rum and Sihle Zikalala, are the cul­mi­na­tion of an in­cip­i­ent anti-In­di­an­ism which has been in­fil­trat­ing South Africa’s democ­racy. While there are ex­ploiters in all groups, threat­en­ing one mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity is tan­ta­mount to per­se­cu­tion.

More sin­is­ter, the vit­riol ap­pears to be emerg­ing from the deep un­der-belly of the ANC. A few ex­am­ples will suf­fice. In early 2002, in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned play­wright and com­poser, Mbon­geni Ngema, re­leased an in­flam­ma­tory anti-In­dian song, AmaNdiya, in Zulu, in which he called for “strong and brave men to con­front In­di­ans… Whites were far bet­ter than In­di­ans… we are poor be­cause all things have been taken by In­di­ans. They are op­press­ing us”.

The song was con­demned by the South African Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion and was sub­se­quently banned from the air­waves.

Bron­wyn Har­ris, a for­mer project man­ager at the Cen­tre for the Study of Vi­o­lence and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion at the Univer­sity of Cape Town, con­tended that Ngema’s song was xeno­pho­bic and also raised ques­tions of iden­tity and cit­i­zen­ship: “AmaNdiya does not only por­tray neg­a­tive stereo­types that are drawn on racial lines. It also cre­ates prej­u­dice through the lan­guage of xeno­pho­bia. By pre­sent­ing ‘In­di­ans’ as out­siders from In­dia, the song raises ques­tions about be­long­ing within South Africa. This moves be­yond race alone be­cause it in­tro­duces con­cepts of cit­i­zen­ship and na­tion­al­ity. It im­plies that ‘In­di­ans’ are not South African, and, there­fore, have less le­git­i­mate claim to their cit­i­zen­ship than oth­ers.”

In 2007, when he was ANC Youth League res­i­dent, Fik­ile Mbalula (cur­rent min­is­ter of po­lice) pre­sented the June 1976 Memo­rial Lec­ture at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, where he con­tended that trans­for­ma­tion had turned the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal “into noth­ing but Bom­bay”, and that African stu­dents “suf­fer on the pe­riph­ery of trans­for­ma­tion… When you get into that in­sti­tu­tion you think it’s an ex­clu­sive univer­sity of In­di­ans only”.

Since 2009, In­di­ans op­posed to the de­struc­tion of the cen­tury-old War­wick mar­ket, in Dur­ban, which had an um­bil­i­cal con­nec­tion with the de­scen­dants of in­den­tured labour­ers, were taunted with chants of “Hamba khaya! Hamba uye eBom­bay” (Go home! Go home to Mum­bai!), from the rent-amobs aligned to the rul­ing party, in front of se­nior ANC lead­ers, with im­punity.

On July 17, 2009, in a pub­lic meet­ing or­gan­ised by the eThekwini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, the head of eThekwini Busi­ness Sup­port and Mar­kets, Philip Sithole, said: “Let us take the food from the mouths of the In­di­ans! Now is the time for Africans to be in power! We will re­move them all, and re­place them with blacks!”

Other at­tacks in­clude the head of Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices and the pres­i­dent of the Black Man­age­ment Fo­rum, Mzwanele Manyi’s sug­ges­tion, in March 2011, that there were too many In­di­ans in KwaZulu-Na­tal and that many bought their way to the top.

Trevor Manuel, na­tional plan­ning min­is­ter at the time, wrote an open let­ter to Manyi, in which he called him a “worst-or­der racist”.

In Oc­to­ber 2010, when he was the leader of the ANCYL, Malema made ref­er­ence to “amakula” (a deroga­tory term for In­di­ans) when ad­dress­ing a meet­ing in Them­be­lihle, “where ser­vice-de­liv­ery protests have been lent a sharper edge by per­cep­tions that In­dian res­i­dents of nearby Le­na­sia are treated bet­ter by the gov­ern­ment”.

More re­cently, as leader of the EFF, Malema re­ferred to In­di­ans as ex­ploiters.

A news­pa­per had ques­tioned Malema’s mo­tives: “What is Malema’s in­ten­tion in us­ing such lan­guage – per­haps to in­cite a Rwan­dan-style geno­cide? We are no rain­bow na­tion. That much is clear. And the glib­ness with which sup­posed lead­ers ma­nip­u­late race and dis­pos­ses­sion to fight their causes will surely come back to haunt us all. We have al­ready wit­nessed the shock­ing atroc­ity of for­eign­ers be­ing at­tacked and killed in South Africa. This time, if we are not care­ful, it will be our peo­ple who are tar­geted.”

One pos­si­ble rea­son for the anti-In­dian hype, ac­cord­ing to the late Pro­fes­sor Fa­tima Meer, was that “when the ma­jor­ity com­mu­nity is be­set by want, anx­i­ety, dis­sat­is­fac­tion and fear, it tends to ex­hibit a lack of com­pas­sion and tol­er­ance for mi­nori­ties. It may be­come dan­ger­ously hos­tile when the mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity next to it … is pros­per­ing and on the rise so­cially, eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally”.

As racism, trib­al­ism, eth­nic chau­vin­ism, xeno­pho­bia, crony­ism and the celebration of medi­ocrity be­come pro­nounced in the new South Africa, and the rul­ing elite bla­tantly flout demo­cratic prin­ci­ples forged on the anvil of Strug­gle, the pas­sive de­scen­dants of in­den­tured labour­ers in­creas­ingly feel dis­il­lu­sioned, marginalised and ex­cluded from the rain­bow na­tion, and anx­iously re­treat into their re­li­gious and cul­tural co­coons. Some pray that sub­lim­i­nal con­nec­tions with In­dia be­come stronger.

Re­tired Judge Thumba Pil­lay ex­pressed out­rage “that there is an al­most deaf­en­ing si­lence from the high-pro­file lead­er­ship within the In­dian com­mu­nity; those who en­joy the con­fi­dence of, and pay homage to, the rul­ing party”.

A ma­jor prob­lem has been a dearth of cred­i­ble lead­er­ship in the com­mu­nity, who can rep­re­sent the work­ing class and the poor. Largely be­cause of a lack of as­tute lead­er­ship, In­di­ans face the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing po­lit­i­cally marginalised.

The var­i­ous dep­re­ca­tory com­ments and racial slurs made over the past decade may well be an ap­pro­pri­ate warn­ing to the South African In­dian com­mu­nity to awake and arise from their ap­a­thetic slum­ber.

For a worst-case sce­nario, google “Idi Amin and the Asian ex­pul­sion”.

A silent ques­tion is whether it is pos­si­ble to build a demo­cratic, pro­gres­sive plat­form from the grass­roots level for con­struc­tive en­gage­ment with the gov­ern­ment of the day that could ar­tic­u­late the prob­lems and chal­lenges fac­ing the South African In­dian com­mu­nity, with­out be­com­ing the sur­ro­gate of any po­lit­i­cal party.

(Ex­tract from a pa­per to be pre­sented at the 100-year Com­mem­o­ra­tion Sym­po­sium of the For­mal Abo­li­tion of In­den­ture on Satur­day at the 1860 Her­itage Cen­tre in Derby Street, Dur­ban).

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