A screenshot from Kessie Nair's video where he calls President Cyril Ramaphosa the K-word

Pretoria - Kessie Nair’s brand of vitriol and racism is not only crude and dangerous, but also a bullet in the head of a proud cohort of Indians who; having arrived here as slaves, have evolved to come to stand proud amongst the oppressed people; come to accept these southern shores as our only home, come to have little to no ties with the Indian sub-continent, and come to proudly call ourselves South African. What little “Indian” lies in us, is largely of a religious or cultural complexion.

Nair, a convicted fraudster, finds it appropriate to insult President Cyril Ramaphosa; in the most ugly and repugnant form; with impunity and in so doing he feeds into the “Indians are the most racist" narrative. Truthfully though, he is sadly not a lone voice, nor is his backwardness and racist tendencies.

Let’s be honest; racism is well and alive in very many Indian homes. So, to start with, let’s be clear, it’s never okay to be “just a little” racist, not even in the confines of your personal circles, Whatsapp groups or cover of home. It’s never okay to be racist in the name of expressing genuine problems of poverty, crime; corruption or anything else. It’s not okay to put fear into little kids about an African person; this only lays the seeds of racism. These kids grow up harbouring those ill feelings, which mutate into prejudice; and often into full-blown racism.

It’s not okay to refer to African people (or anyone else) in derogatory terms. Using other forms of reference (whether in Tamil; Hindi or whatever else) is no less racist then the use of the K-word. It’s not okay to have an “African Friend” to mask your racism; when on the homefront everything about your demeanour is racist.

We’ve come a long way since the "Joint Declaration of Cooperation" or “Doctors Pact” signed in 1947 by Dr Bathini Xuma, then president of the African National Congress, Dr Monty Naicker, and Dr Yusuf Dadoo, then presidents of the Natal Transvaal Indian Congresses respectively. This pact was the basis for the formal unity of the oppressed groups in South Africa.

Although the doctors pact laid the formal basis for joint co-operation, the politics of the South African Indian Congress, formed as early as 1919 was radically influenced by Dr Naicker and Dr Dadoo in the 1930s and 1940s, both of whom argued that the condition of the Indian cannot be challenged in isolation from other oppressed national groups and agitated for greater co-operation between all oppressed people. They committed themselves to building the national liberation movement, giving birth in 1947 to the Doctor’s Pact.

This agitation was not only tactical, but a principled stance. The first group of Indian slaves had, in fact, arrived in 1684 during the Dutch colonial period. The second wave came in 1860 as indentured workers on the sugar cane plantations. 

Like the first Indians who arrived earlier, when the system of indentured labour came to an end in 1911, over 70% of the approximately 150 000 Indians who were brought here had decided to remain here. They have consciously decided to make these southern shores their home. It was only beyond 1911 that the first group of Indian traders arrived in search of economic opportunity. 

Over the years the Indian Congress movement had gone on to play a critical role in shaping the contours of our national body politic. Many comrades of Indian origin joined the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the armed wing of the ANC), were sentenced to prisons terms and occupied various leadership positions in the broader Congress Movement, including the United Democratic Front and eventually the ANC itself. Beyond 1994, many had gone on to serve the democratic state, both in the national and provincial legislatures and the public service, as well as other sectors in society.

But the idea of the Indian community as a homogenous community is a fallacy. Politically as much as there were many who had joined and were singularly committed to the ideals of the National Liberation Movement, so too were there those that sold out our struggle and joined the forces with the apartheid state apparatus, culminating in the system of tri-cameral parliaments in the 1980s as well as the racially based local management committees. Culturally, socially and economically too, this fallacy is evident. Whilst there are very prosperous Indians, so too are there extremely poor Indians. Cultural and religious differences also defines other lines of division amongst the Indian community.  

That said, and irrespective of the circumstances, until and unless we speak out against this behaviour; we will continue to spit on the legacy of Madiba; Kathrada; Sisulu, Mama Albertina Sisulu, Adelaide Tambo, et al.

Racism is the ultimate betrayal of the vision spelt out in the Freedom Charter. It’s offensive, dangerous and counter-productive to the future of all South Africans who have an interest in building a non-racial, prosperous, united and gender equal society.

Racism is also not in your genes, it is in large part how you brought up but most importantly being racist or expressing racism is a conscious choice. It’s time the Indian community, calls out this behaviour in and amongst ourselves, so that the likes of the fraudster Kessie Nair don’t have to courage to spew their hatred with such impunity. It’s time we examine our own attitudes and platitudes about African people in particular, but all people for that matter.


* Subesh Pillay is a senior researcher to the ANC Caucus in the Gauteng Legislature.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.