Opinion - Time for Indian community to reconnect
Opinion - From time to time, one hears the lament from members of the Indian community that they have been sidelined in the new South Africa whereas, during the heady days of apartheid, they stood side by side with the African majority to overthrow apartheid. There is a measure of truth in what is being said.
But it is only half the story. The other half is that because of their contribution to the liberation Struggle, there is a window of opportunity for the Indian community. Like everyone else, the Indian community must actively take the next step into the new South Africa and reap the dividends of freedom. In short, it is time for the Indian community to move out of its insular position and reconnect.
Beyond the role of the Natal and Transvaal Indian congresses and the participation of the Indian community under the leadership of the United Democratic Front in the 1980s, there are human interest stories of the contribution of Indians we should proudly talk about, for fear of losing them. I know of three.
During the height of the State of Emergency in 1985, a group of Indian activists attended a community meeting in the mining town of Carletonville. At that meeting we were told that the Indian doctors from Lenasia, who had their surgeries in Carletonville, gave bursaries to needy African students every year. The same story was heard in all the small towns in the then Transvaal.
During the consumer boycott in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, also in the 80s, the supermarket owned by the Pillay family was the only store patronised by the African community because of the family’s proximity to Africans in the town. The security police forcibly closed the supermarket at the demand of white businesses and charged the family criminally.
The third case is about the Indian businessmen of Pietermaritzburg. When Archie Gumede, Cassim Saloojee, Paul David, MJ Naidoo, Albertina Sisulu, Essop Jassat and other UDF leaders were given bail in their treason trial on a Friday afternoon, after months of incarceration, Indian businessmen of Pietermaritzburg arrived at court with carrier bags full of cash to free our leaders.
The rich history of involvement of the Indian community is well documented and will be preserved in posterity. It is this history that we should use to reconnect with the dynamic political, social and economic change that is under way in our country. If we don’t take this opportunity, it will pass us by and the Indian community will be the poorer.
We are fortunate that we have strong religious and cultural associations that held the community together after 1994 and are interacting with and participating in interfaith meetings on regularly. We are also fortunate to have business groups, like the Congress of Business and Economics and other business chambers, that have the ability to lead Indian businessmen and businesswomen into the mainstream economy.
At national level, organisations such as the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation are articulating the abhorrence of the Indian community against the rampant corruption in the country. In the field of sport, many leaders such as Sam Ramsamy, Ebrahim Patel, Ashwin Trikamjee and Rama Reddy have proved their mettle and there is a crop of secondary leaders, such as Imtiaz Abdulla, who are ready to lead the sports fraternity.
The absence of political leadership in the Indian community is cause for concern. But there is sufficient gravitas among the formations listed above to represent the aspirations of the Indian community in the spheres of education, business, culture, religion and sport and integrate us into the new South African nation, so that we take our rightful place side by side again with the African majority, to build our country and reap the opportunities and benefits of the better life we fought for.
Krish Naidoo is ANC legal adviser.