Opinion: No, Indian South Africans are not being left behind
Opinion - On December 12, the National Indian Congress of SA (Nicsa) is planning to “park by the Pozie”. The congress is calling on South African Indians residing in eThekwini to Park by the Pozie”.
Nicsa says it represents the South African Indian population. It wants South African Indians to use their economic power and stay home. This is to supposedly send out the message that “the Indian community is a part of the fabric of SA and that we need to be treated and respected as such”.
Well, there are a few problems with this idea of “parking by the Pozi.” Let’s start with the most obvious. Nicsa says South Africans have been left behind in the narrative of South Africa’s history and they want to show that by withdrawing their economic power. This plan just amplifies the idea that South African Indians are so privileged in a country where so many people live beneath the poverty line.
Threatening to withdraw one’s economic power is evidence of the massive economic power one has. South Africa is a deeply unequal country where many people do not have much. The inequality has increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Flaunting economic power might seem insensitive and not the best way to go about calling for respect and recognition.
The economic power of most of the 2.6% of South African Indians is not something fabled either. The asset index employs data of a household’s assets, such as durable and semi-durable goods, to describe household welfare instead of using a household’s income or expenditure data. The Statistics South Africa average asset scores for white South Africans remained the highest, followed by the Indian/Asian population. Asset inequality has decreased between 2009 and 2015 among three population groups, namely coloureds, Indians/Asians, and white.
Another issue when looking at the place of Indian South Africans in South Africa, we cannot look at it ahistorically. During apartheid, Indian South Africans were regarded as black and were subject to the oppressive policies of the evil system. The community across the country suffered under apartheid. But Indian South Africans managed to escape some of the harshest punishments of the racist regime reserved for Black South Africans.
And now many Indian South Africans seem to be failing to interrogate the inequalities, injustices and structural legacy of that oppressive system. The refusal to recognise the privileges Indian South Africans were and continue to be afforded is most concerning.
According to Stats SA, from 2006 to 2015, the Gini coefficient increased for black Africans while it remained constant for coloureds and decreased for Indians/Asians and whites. Due to both their low population share and income share, Indians/Asians’ contribution to within inequality was the lowest, followed by whites.
South African Indians calling to be respected and treated as an important part of South Africa’s history needs to interrogate our role in society. We need to be cognisant of the intersection of race, class and gender and more in the highly politicised South African society.
There is nothing wrong with South African Indians wanting to be recognised as a vital part of history. From the indentured labourers, who marked one of the first arrivals of Indian immigrants to South Africa, to businessmen and the anti-apartheid fighters of Indian descent, there is no doubt that South African Indians have made a huge impact. But when the smallest racial demographic in a country is claiming oppression and marginalisation with no real evidence to back this up, it does feel like a problem.
In a country where black South Africans continue to be the most oppressed, face the biggest inequalities and occupy the lowest economic levels, there needs to be consideration. We need to be having more nuanced conversations around race, class, and gender before we keep playing the victim card. Fighting for a greater and more equal South Africa for all needs that much from us all, especially Indian South Africans who continue to occupy positions of power and prestige where we could use our voices for good.
In a statement from the Nicsa in the POST, the spokesperson says this is not a racial campaign and it just wants to convey the message that South African Indians suffer marginalisation but carry economic clout. We know all Indian South Africans do not enjoy the same economic benefits. That’s why there is a need for nuance and understanding class dynamics. Many Indians South Africans are within the lower economic positions and are part of marginalised communities. But many Indian South Africans are not marginalised.
Just using the word “marginalised” in a country where many black South Africans continue to suffer from poverty and inequality is disingenuous. The idea that Indian South Africans are being left behind is not only directed at Nicsa and the Park by the Pozie campaign. South Africans are not being marginalised or disrespected. Instead, we need to be having more nuanced conversations within our community about racism, classism, colourism and a range of other issues that requires nuance and will, hopefully, bring about an understanding about what it truly means to be Indian South African – without playing the victim card.
Fatima Moosa is a journalist and writer interested in identity and history in South Africa.