Durban - THE eThekwini Municipality has come under fire for its controversial decision to exclude Indians and coloureds from taking part in an official car auction, that was reserved for Africans only.
The auction, which has sparked widespread condemnation from political parties, civil society and the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) took place on Friday.
The blacks-only auction was the second one sanctioned by the municipality after the one, dubbed the radical economic transformation (RET) auction, was held last year.
The city yesterday said the auction was meant only for women of all races, and it had launched an investigation into why Indians and coloureds were excluded.
The event involved the auctioning of various used municipal vehicles from the city fleet and was advertised in a newspaper, stipulating that it would allow the participation only of women, people with disabilities, youth, military veterans, small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and co-operatives.
However, people of Indian and coloured origin were barred from participating in the auction, in Mobeni.
Senior legal officer for the SAHRC Pavershree Padayachee said the commission would proceed with its own initiated complaint and engage with the municipality regarding the allegations.
“On receipt of their response, we will be able to assess the matter further,” she said.
Devan Govender said he attended the auction, after seeing the advertisement in the newspaper. Govender, of Shallcross, said he attended the auction in his personal capacity, as he was in search of a truck to start a small business.
“According to the advert, viewing of the vehicles took place on the three days prior to the auction, however I was not even allowed to view the vehicles. I was immediately told that it was not open to Indians and I was chased off the property,” he said. Govender, who was adamant that his rights had been violated, attended the auction nevertheless.
“Before the start of the auction, a municipal official stood up and told us that no Indians should bid. They went on about this being an auction for previously disadvantaged people, and Indians and coloureds were not included.”
Govender said although he was not allowed to participate in the auction, he stayed near the Mobeni property to “listen in” on the proceedings.
“What I did hear was vehicles that I expected to be sold for R60000 or more were being sold at R20000. It seemed like the officials were also stopping the auctioneer from going too high to allow the bidders to get a low price.” He also alleged that the bidders were representing car dealerships to purchase the vehicles. “So how is that an advantage to the previously disadvantaged?” Govender asked.
Spokesperson for the municipality Msawakhe Mayisela confirmed that other races were excluded from the auction, saying the city was investigating the official who issued that instruction.
“The auction was meant for women of all races, as they were disadvantaged and did not have equal opportunities as their male counterparts. The city will, however, investigate if any rules of the auction were violated,” said Mayisela.
However, in a telephone interview earlier yesterday, Mayisela said the auction was held for black South Africans only, and a separate auction was open to all races. He said the auction was ring-fenced for blacks only as “Africans cannot compete with Indians at auctions”.
He said the imbalances of the past would not go away overnight, however, the city had taken a stance to try and “deal with the realities” of South Africa.
“Indians were oppressed but not in a similar way to blacks. You cannot compare the treatment of Indians to blacks during apartheid. Just look at townships like uMlazi and KwaMashu compared to Indian townships,” Mayisela said.
South African Hindu Maha Sabha president Ashwin Trikamjee said he could not agree with Mayisela’s comments and the city’s decision to host separate auctions based on race.
He urged the SAHRC to look into the matter, saying that no municipal by-law entitled eThekwini to treat people in such a manner. “Everyone, besides the white community, was classified as disadvantaged. This notion that Indians were privileged is such a reckless notion and this incident is totally against the principles of equality,” he said.
Community activist Visvin Reddy lambasted the municipality for excluding South Africans of Indian descent and referred to the decision as “bizarre and unconstitutional”.
Reddy said he would take the matter up with the municipality by writing to the acting mayor Fawzia Peer.
“It is important to get the complete facts and, once the city gives us an explanation, we will proceed with further action, which will include reporting this incident to the Human Rights Commission,” said Reddy.
DA councillor in the city’s executive committee Nicole Graham said the incident was an example of how the municipality abused systems to potentially alienate other race groups.
“This clearly indicates the attempts to sideline Indians, coloureds and, by extension, whites. The reality is that this is not about race but about the ANC wanting to enrich anyone who is connected to them,” she said.
Graham said radical economic transformation was not about empowering anyone “besides the ANC”.