Today I sat down to write a column on the desperate situation of hospitals in Gaza. But something deep inside gnawed at me all the way to work, that I need to address you directly on what you said about Indians this week – that the majority of Indians are racist.
Being a white person I feel the least qualified to raise concerns about issues of racism in South Africa. But knowing intimately as I do the contribution of Indian comrades to the struggle for freedom in South Africa, I just cannot remain silent.
When you said at an EFF demonstration on Palestine I attended some months ago that the South African police should try out their bullets on white skins, I was stunned in disbelief. It was as if all the revolutionary solidarity you displayed for the Palestinians was soiled by your own words against your fellow compatriots. I walked away from that demonstration with tears in my eyes as my own children may be of mixed race, but they look white. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of future they may have in South Africa if one day angry South Africans are told to resort to violence. After all, you did say in an interview with TRT World that you “didn’t call for the killing of white people…at least, not for now.”
What do I tell my children about that?
I come from a long line of South Africans who have lived here over hundreds of years, but I did spend almost two decades of my life living in Canada after my parents left here in the 1960s. When I worked for the South African Presidency in 2004 I made the choice to give up my Canadian citizenship as I truly believed that South Africa is what Madiba said it was – a country for all those who live in it. So Julius, I have nowhere to run to, and nor do I want to run anywhere.
When my daughter goes to school on heritage day she often wears ANC regalia, and once she even wore a red beret. I never want her to feel that she doesn’t belong here because of the colour of her skin. My son has already felt the ingrained racism at his primary school, when his teacher told him he couldn’t wear an Indian outfit on heritage day as that was not part of South African heritage. He cried that day and he never again wanted to wear the outfit that does in fact form part of his father’s history, which is so proudly South African.
I sometimes wonder whether the senior comrades who I hold so dear in the ANC are just too worried about the potential backlash against themselves to respond to your comments. It seems they have left it to the Kathrada Foundation to speak on their behalf, as they have on many other occasions.
You know my husband, and I believe you may even respect him as an ANC veteran. You are together in Parliament every week. He used to say your contributions at ANC meetings were particularly impressive when you were still a member.
Well, I want to take this opportunity, despite him counselling me otherwise, to remind you of his contribution, as a South African of Indian heritage, to the freedom we enjoy today in South Africa, and that of countless other Indian comrades. For you to generalise negatively about Indians as a race seems to denigrate the contribution he and so many other Indian comrades have made, many of whom are still alive today.
Ebrahim was accused number one in what was known as the “Little Rivonia trial” in 1964, after he and Ronnie Kasrils had spent years engaging in sabotage against the apartheid state in Natal, pulling off some of the most stunning acts such as bringing down electricity pylons and taking out the electricity down the Durban coastline.
They were the founding members of MK in Natal, and they risked everything to overthrow the racist state. When Ebie was eventually caught trying to warn a black comrade that their cell had been compromised, he was almost beaten to death by the security police and then almost drowned. That day led to 15 years on Robben Island sleeping on cold cement floors, eating mielie rice, and breaking stones for eight hours a day, and studying by night.
After his release, he became the head of the ANC’s political-military committee in Swaziland where he had to live in a different underground house every six months, and was being hunted by the apartheid state. In 1986 he was kidnapped by apartheid intelligence agents. In his second trial for treason in 1989, the racist judge said he never learnt his lesson the first time on the island and he was sentencing him to a further 20 years.
I am not relaying this story to boast of his Struggle credentials, but to remind South Africans and yourself of the selfless contribution of South Africans of Indian origin to fighting a brutal and racist system so that South Africa can belong to all who live in it. Ebie was just one of many.
There was Sunny Singh who was part of the Natal sabotage campaign and spent 10 years on Robben Island, Essu Chiba, Ahmed Kathrada, Indres Naidoo, George Naicker, Kisten Moonsamy, Natvarlal Babenia, Siva Pillay, Phyllis Naidoo, Reggie Vandeyar, Strini Moodley, Kesval Moonsamy, Shirish Nanabai, Dullah Omar, Yusuf Dadoo, and Billy Nair. Valliamma Munuswami a young girl of 16 died in 1914 after marching with Gandhi against the racist state. Ahmed Timol was tortured and thrown from the 10th-floor window of John Vorster square in 1971. Krishna Rabilal was killed in the Motala raid in 1981, and Lenny Naidoo was killed crossing the border from Swaziland into Natal. In the name of all those comrades and so many others, we cannot say that the majority of Indians in this country are racist.
I would like to invite you and your comrades to engage in a dialogue with a number of struggle veterans on Lilliesleaf farm on the issue of racism in South Africa. As an important political leader with influence over the masses in South Africa, I believe that your participation in such a dialogue could serve to bring about greater understanding and ubuntu in our country.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Foreign Editor.