The provincial task team set up to deal with violence aimed at Indian businessmen in the Phoenix industrial area, outside Durban, will hopefully dampen tensions even as more organisations join calls for the government to exclude Indians from the black economic empowerment (BEE) policy.
KwaZulu-Natal provincial government spokesman Ndabezinhle Sibiya said the team was set up after Mazibuye African Forum (MAF), which is leading the agitation against Indian companies, was involved in a protest that blocked entrances to businesses in the area and resulted in the arrest of about 40 people in November last year.
Sibiya said Premier Senzo Mchunu was of the view that people should not use racially divisive tactics to deal with socio-economic issues, but “should rather use all structures available to them to get to the bottom of such issues”.
He said those with grievances could get help from the KwaZulu-Natal Black Economic Empowerment Council, Growth Coalition and Economic Advisory Council.
The MAF has called on the government to re-examine the BEE and affirmative action policies, saying Indians were over-represented in most sectors of the economy.
Such tensions cannot be ignored as similar stresses exploded into attacks by blacks against Indians in Inanda in 1984, and in Cato Manor in 1949. More than 200 people died and thousands were injured in the pogroms.
Two separate organisations, Imbumba Business Group and the MAF, have come out against Indian business ownership in KwaZulu-Natal, saying economic transformation is urgently needed.
MAF spokesman Zweli Sangweni said the group was unashamedly calling for the exclusion of the Indian race group from BEE, affirmative action and employment equity.
“Indians have benefited from both the apartheid regime and from the new dispensation and are over-represented in all the sectors of the economy.”
He said the wealth gap between Indians and blacks in Durban had widened under the ANC government. “We are calling for an urgent economic transformation in this province. A lot of black people who work for Indians are still underpaid and are enslaved.”
Sangweni added that even after 20 years of democracy, Indians still dominated sectors such as transport, wholesale, fruit and vegetable markets and retail. He believed Indians were over-represented in areas of employment, including the SAPS, health care and in the private sector, and benefited disproportionately from government tenders.
However, business people in Durban disagreed, saying this generalisation could inflame racial tensions.
Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Andrew Layman said: “The views expressed by this organisation are shameful and are contrary to those on which the South African constitution and democracy are based. We have state agencies whose responsibility it is to deal with public utterances of this type. There is no research to support the claim, as far as I’m aware.”
Vivian Reddy, a businessman and ally of President Jacob Zuma, said: “The Indian community has built about 75 schools in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and they have also contributed positively to the Struggle.”
The BEE policy document was governed by laws of this country and should be respected, he added.
Ashwin Singh of the SA Minority Rights Equality Movement said it was wrong to say the Indian community’s progress was based on tenders. “The Indian community has built up its wealth from family businesses which have been around for generations.”
He said about 90 percent of tenders were given to black people and Indians were disadvantaged by the quota system.
Businessman and co-chair of KZN Growth Coalition Moses Tembe said the MAF must provide facts to support its claims. “We need tangible proof to take this issue forward. These people must come with proof that their tender applications have been turned away in favour of Indian people’s applications.” He added that the country belonged to all and he would like to believe the country provided equal opportunities for all.
Mary de Haas of the KZN Violence Monitor agreed, saying the MAF had over-simplified a complex matter which could instigate violence. “This is pure generalisation which if not dealt with could spark tensions in the province. The MAF needs to provide empirical figures on which to base their argument,” she said.
De Haas noted that some economic imbalances remained and that the MAF’s frustration could be stemming from them.