Durban - South Africans, by their nature, enjoy constructive and spirited discourse about the state of the nation. When you listen to radio talk shows, read opinion pieces or merely listen to everyday conversation, you get a sense that South Africans are generally active citizens. The frankness and bluntness with which these debates and conversations are carried out inspires the spirit of activism and nationhood.
Recently, the issue of national minorities dominated such debates after the controversial landing of the Gupta jet from India at the Waterkloof Air Force Base.
Around the same time, I attended a meeting in Vryheid that was attended by many coloured people. At this meeting, a coloured woman stood up and asserted the all-familiar statement that during apartheid coloured people were not white enough and now during the democratic dispensation they are not black enough.
The most important issue for me here is the attitude of minorities towards South Africa, being South African and the ANC. Whites who joined the Struggle during apartheid did so because they identified with the plight of the oppressed (including Indians and coloureds, but the majority of whom were indigenous Africans), and were inspired by the hope and the vision of a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
Indians and coloureds who joined the Struggle saw themselves as South Africans fighting side by side with their fellow compatriots against the enemy. They took the struggle for liberation as a natural responsibility and the historic mission for which they were prepared to sacrifice their lives. One thinks of Struggle stalwarts such as Yusuf Dadoo, Amhed Kathrada, Ruth First, Fatima Meer, Joe Slovo, Sophia Debryn Williams, Beyers Naudé and even the Jay Naidoos and Trevor Manuels of today.
In the democratic South Africa, there has been consistency at all government levels to be inclusive in reflecting the demographics of the country. That was not done merely to appease them because of their status as minorities – they were appointed into those positions because they were in every imaginable way, part and parcel of South Africa. They represent a united, non-racial and democratic South Africa.
My observation is that as soon as individuals from the Indian, white and coloured communities get elected to government, they get “abandoned” and “disowned” by these communities.
This does not mean they should be regarded as representing those communities, but it should show that they come from these communities. What are the reasons for this exactly? Where is the joy one feels when a person from “my village, my township, my town, my province” has been elevated to a position that makes me feel part of South Africa and the rest?
Is it because they are ANC members in an ANC government? Is it because they become part of the majority or are getting too close to indigenous Africans? Is it rejecting being South African? It certainly cannot be that these individuals, many of whom have excellent records and standing in society, suddenly have no relevance and impact on the lives of the people, including their communities.
I get a sense that minorities have generally abdicated their responsibility towards South Africa, being South African, towards the government, and the ANC. This whole notion of “us” and “them”, as espoused by the majority of Indian and coloured people, is lethal, if not downright cancerous for the future of being South African over and above a mere minority.
The rootedness of Indians in South Africa, in particular, is seen in their geographical spread in the country. More than 1.2 million Indians reside not only in Stanger, Mayfair, Chatsworth or Lenasia, but in each and every corner of South Africa. Their rootedness is seen in their economic, business as well as their academic influence in the country. They ordinarily need houses, pensions, schools, safety, a clean neighbourhood and general care of the government.
What, for instance, makes the majority of Indians in KwaZulu-Natal feel that the party to support is the DA, rather than the ANC, from Madiba’s time till today? I am sure beyond doubt that there is nothing monolithic about any people, including Indians in KZN. I firmly reject this notion of group thinking.
My practical experience is that the propaganda that sought to project the “Zulus” as IFP, as a homogenous group, has long crumbled. There was never any monolithic thinking and feeling among them even in the ’80s and throughout the ’90s. It was an artificial creation of those who would thrive in such absurdity.
The DA has never voluntarily and, therefore, willingly embraced non-racialism. It has never reflected that in its top leadership structures at any point. It sees indigenous Africans and Indian communities as political markets only. It now sees and treats ANC history as merchandise you can buy and possess by appearing next to the graves of freedom fighters and stalwarts.
Throughout the history of the DA, I have no recollection of any Indian person who has held an influential position in the party.
Is this not the reflection of how Indians and coloured people are looked at in the DA? Indians in KZN are part of all of us in KZN and we are part of them throughout South Africa
Talk that Indians should apologise for the “shame brought by the Guptas upon the Indian community” signifies this lack of nationhood from the majority of Indians in the country. Advocate Kessie Naidu, one of the most respected advocates in the country, in the words of Wole Soyinka, “really married both our drink and brain lobes” when he wrote: “I fear that there is a very real possibility that Indians in our country might be tarnished by the same dirty brush.” This is the crux of the matter.
Why would the learned Kessie Naidu, and others who think like him, feel that one indiscretion around the Guptas would tarnish the image and bring to question the bona fides of Indians who are South African? Is this not reflective of attempts at self-imposed isolation by minorities, who in this instance are Indians? Indians in South Africa are South Africans, they are not the Indians of India. They are Indians of South Africa, born and bred in this beautiful land. Their history goes as far back as the 1860s and most have been in this country for more than seven generations. There is no need for Indians to apologise to anybody, not even to contemplate it.
What would Amhed Timol, the first Indian activist to be killed by the apartheid regime, say if he were to rise from his grave only to see that the barriers he fought against, are being reinstated in this manner? I am not calling for all Indians or minorities to collectively vote for the ANC. I am saying South Africans, including in KZN, fought and defeated the white oppressive minority regime. We are all contributing in the growth of South Africa together. What is this feeling of isolation all about? Where does it come from and what is the Indian community feeling about it?
By the way, journalists and analysts who accuse ANC members of being stupid for voting in Zuma and the ANC have never accused Indians and coloureds for voting for the DA even though in the DA they are guaranteed no participation in the higher structures of the party.
Unlike in the ANC, where Indians and coloureds feel at home, and are part and parcel of the structures of the ANC and occupy important positions even in the government, it is not so with the DA. People other than indigenous Africans who vote for the ANC do so because they feel the need for a sense of belonging to South Africa.
We in the ANC also need to look inwards. We need to ask ourselves if there is anything that we do or not do to elicit the feeling of self-isolation among the minority groups. We need to open and encourage frank dialogue around the issue and the plight of minorities.
After all is said and done, minorities need to assert and see themselves as South Africans because they are in every way part of this country. They are part of history, part of failures and part of successes of this beautiful nation.
* Mchunu is the chairman of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. He is also the MEC for education in the province.