MF party leader Amichand Rajbansi. Picture: Marilyn Bernard
MF party leader Amichand Rajbansi. Picture: Marilyn Bernard

Cult figure was larger than life

By Bheki Mbanjwa Time of article published Dec 30, 2011

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The death of Minority Front Leader Amichand Rajbansi could also mark the beginning of the end of the party.

Political analyst Kiru Naidoo summed it up this way: “The MF was fashioned around Rajbansi’s formidable personality. It is very difficult to sep-arate the MF from Rajbansi.”

To understand the MF and the challenges that lie ahead for the party, one has to first understand Rajbansi, who was until his death perhaps the most colourful politician in Kwa-Zulu-Natal.

Born in Clairwood in January 1942, the Bengal Tiger, as Rajbansi was affectionately known, claimed the political bug bit him at an early age.

By 14 – he claimed – he was already a “seasoned politician” attending “every” ANC rally addressed by Albert Luthuli and Moses Mabhida in Durban.

In 1959, Rajbansi led the first school boycott at Clairwood High School.

After completing matric, he studied at the Indian University College, where he majored in psychology and history. He worked as a sports administrator and a professional soccer referee, and served as a civic leader and teacher before joining politics full time.

It was his participation in the House of Delegates that led to Rajbansi’s being labelled an apartheid government “stooge” by his political opponents.

Obviously he did not take too kindly to such labels, and when ANC leader Clive Pillay referred to him as a stooge in October last year, Rajbansi laid a charge of crimen injuria against him.

His excuse for participating in the House of Delegates was that he saw this “as a means to an end to create a true non-racial South Africa”.

As the dawn of the new SA drew to a close, Rajbansi was one of the key negotiators at the Codesa talks.

According to the MF, Nelson Mandela sent for Rajbansi at 3am one morning when there was a crisis at Codesa, and this has been magnified by Rajbansi over time.

While the role he played at Codesa could be a bit overstated by his supporters, Raj-bansi will be remembered for an incident in 1993 when the AWB stormed the World Trade Centre, where the talks were being held, and he was slapped across the face by an AWB supporter. But even that did not put the Tiger down.

In the new SA Rajbansi continued to champion the cause of Indians, many of whom continued to feel marginalised, even after the watershed 1994 general elections.

Positioning himself as the champion of minority rights helped the Raj survive the many political storms that saw many other parties vanish or become reduced to irrelevance.

In later elections, he would try to reposition the MF as a home for all, but he never lost touch with his core constit-uency.

He also ventured into social networking sites like Facebook, where at the time of his death he had 4 881 friends.

Rajbansi still lived in his Chatsworth home and also had offices there – among his voters.

But a “marriage of convenience” with the ANC in 2004 in the KZN government and co-operation between the two parties in eThekwini local government alienated some of his supporters. Nevertheless, he was rewarded by the ANC with a position as MEC for sport and recreation.

During this tenure, his opposition to the ruling party softened, with the DA sometimes referring to Rajbansi as the ANC’s praise singer.

The Tiger seemed to have lost his bite, but he got it back after the 2009 elections, coincidentally after the ANC did not include him in the provincial executive or cabinet.

In his time as a public representative, Rajbansi developed a reputation as a tireless tongue in debates.

It was to be expected that Rajbansi felt more threatened by the DA than the ANC, because the former has been steadily attracting Indian voters.

He and his wife, Shameen Thakur Rajbansi, a pharmacist, had many run-ins with the DA at the provincial legislature where they were the sole representatives of the MF.

There is no doubt that without Rajbansi, politics in SA will never be the same.

Naidoo said: “It is clear no successor was appointed, and even though it is a small party, there is a strong likelihood that its political presence would fade away unless the remaining members pull things together.”

Zakhele Ndlovu, a politics lecturer at UKZN, concurred, saying that the death of Rajbansi would create a vacuum that would not be easily filled.

“He was a very strong, charismatic leader and there is no charismatic leader who can take over the reins and keep the party going.”

Ndlovu believes the future looks bleak for the MF, which has continuously shed votes in recent elections.

In April 2009 the Minority Front fared badly, only getting 0.25 percent of the vote.

Ndlovu says the reason why the MF failed to grow is that it continued to focus on one racial group.

When asked recently whether he was grooming anyone to take over the reins in the MF should he resign, Rajbansi responded: “Yes, there is someone and that person is a member with me in the legislature,” in reference to his wife.

But there is a feeling among some members that Thakur could face rebellion.

Naidoo believed that while the MF managed to give parties like the DA a run for their money in areas like Phoenix and Chatsworth, it was nevertheless a small party that punched above its weight.

“What made Rajbansi relevant was that he was able to speak the language of the marginalised and alienated in the poor areas of Phoenix and Chatsworth,” Naidoo said.

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