The trauma of Inanda’s 1985 violence relived

By Janine Moodley Time of article published Aug 21, 2020

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Durban - THIS month marked 35 years since the violence in Inanda. But for the victims, there has been no closure. Now, those who are still alive are coming together to lobby the government to launch an investigation to find out what caused the mayhem and death.

Inanda was once the home of Mahatma Gandhi, the man who gave the world the concept of non-violence. For decades Indians and Africans had lived as neighbours. Then, on August 6, 1985, violence shattered the peace. For two days, homes and shops were looted and set alight. Gandhi’s home and a school that bore his wife’s name were also destroyed.

More than 1 500 Indian families lost everything as they fled their homes. Three men were killed.

According to historian Omar Badsha, who went to Inanda after anti-apartheid activist Fatima Meer contacted him, there were powerful political entities who were interested in the land.

“These entities wanted the land for housing so they could get rent. Others were out to get the businesses, so they began agitating.”

Badsha said Mpondo residents were also forced to leave.

A paper, titled “Violence In Inanda: August 1985” by Professor Heather Hughes, was published in the Journal of Southern African Studies.

Hughes said the bodies of three Indian men were found burnt. “They were all from the same family, a father, his son and his brother-in-law.”

She said while political organisations denied any involvement in the riot, the IFP’s Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi had said there was a lot of resentment because some Indians had participated in the new Tricameral Parliament.

“Smaller parties such as those connected to the House of Delegates also blamed students and the UDF for the violence.”

Deochand Ganesh, who was the president of the Inanda Child and Family Welfare Society at the time, witnessed the violence. Now 81, Ganesh was responsible for distributing relief packages and the allocation of homes in Phoenix to those left homeless.

“At about 11pm on August 6, some of the residents from Inanda fled and came to my place in nearby Duffs Road seeking help. We went to the epicentre of the riots where people were mobilising, and we got politicians on the line, as well as the authorities.”

Ganesh, who said the riots started unexpectedly, was asked not to return to the area because it was dangerous.

“Helpless families were pounced upon. Their houses were looted and burnt. Rioters infused terror in the defenceless, stealing whatever was portable.”

He said the riots were worse in central Inanda near government-aided schools.

“Acts of arson and looting carried on unabated for two days, spreading like wildfire. Motor vehicles and other possessions were burnt.

“The riots appeared to be clandestinely planned. The owner of Ramgobin’s Garage told me that people bought petrol in containers although they did not own vehicles.”

Ganesh said families who fled by car were taken to various places of safety in Phoenix and Verulam.

“They were housed in community and school halls under trying circumstances. My organisation, the Inanda Indian Child and Family Welfare Society, sprang into action. We sought the help of the police and politicians, like Baldeo Dookie and Amichand Rajbansi, to get the House of Delegates to assist.”

The Inanda Relief Fund - under the chairmanship of YS Chinsamy, KT Manjee and others - raised funds to provide relief to those living at the Brindhaven Secondary School Hall in Verulam and the Greenbury Community Hall in Phoenix.

“Mr S Ramkisson and I served on this committee. We were tasked with identifying the victims who were displaced. This went beyond two years.”

Ganesh said no investigation or inquiry was conducted to determine what led to the riots.

He said most of the 1985 refugees had settled in Caneside and Foresthaven in Phoenix.

“While some have progressed, many still suffer the ravages of that dark period in history.”

Pravesh Naipal was 18 when his parents and siblings fled their home. Naipal, who now lives in Sea Cow Lake, is co-ordinating the new 1985 Inanda Riots Victims initiative.

“This is aimed at bringing former residents together to pursue the truth behind the unrest and to seek reparations from the government.”

Naipal said he was 6 when his family relocated from Durban North to Inanda because of the Group Areas Act. “We lived in a four-bedroom house without electricity or running water. We lived in peace and perfect harmony. We used to get potable water from the Shembe church. When the annual Shembe dance took place, the vendors used our yard.”

He said most of the children attended the Kasturba Gandhi Primary School, while others attended the Inanda Primary School.

“In August 1985, something went wrong. It was violence, looting and arson. We were displaced. We were housed temporarily at the Stonebridge Community Hall and then moved to a school in Verulam. After a while, we were allocated homes in Phoenix. We were compensated with Game stores shopping vouchers.”

Naipal said all the published accounts of the riots were written from an outsider’s perspective and the initiative would help put the riots into perspective.

He would also like the day to be observed nationally, like the Sharpeville Massacre was.

“The Inanda riots are forgotten. We suffered the indignity of racial hatred. This is our history and we do not want it swept under the carpet.

“We were driven out of Inanda with only our clothes on our backs. Today, we must find the truth of who or why it was. We must seek reparations.”

He is in the process of setting up an ad hoc committee and hopes to hold a peace and reconciliation prayer in Inanda.

Naipal said once the committee met, they would write to the office of the president with their concerns.

He can be contacted via WhatsApp at 0842450621.

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