The madness that is Durban’s disease

2012-02-04 11:46

It’s hard to imagine a seedier political bullet-dodger than Amichand “The Tiger” Rajbansi – apartheid stooge, crook and recently departed leader of the racially-based Minority Front.

“The Raj”, as he was also known, was the ultimate political survivor, a master of bread-and-butter politics and using the system for the benefit of himself and his supporters.

He was an individual for whom no blow was too low, the front man for South Africans of Indian descent collaborating with apartheid’s House of Delegates in the 80s, which gave them second class political “rights’’ sandwiched between those of whites and Africans.

As head of the House of Delegates, Rajbansi was a master of the political dark arts, a corrupt beast whose greed and malicious abuse of power saw him being declared unfit for public office by the James Commission of Inquiry in December 1988. The evidence at the commission was the kind of material that would have buried anyone else.

Durban and the rest of South Africa reckoned the Raj had finally caught the bullet with his name written on it. But he hadn’t.

The Raj lay low for a while and waited for his moment.

It came during the political transition from 1990 to 1994, when he re-entered politics via the Minority Front, a “party’’ formed by him specifically to represent “Indian” interests at the talks to hammer out South Africa’s future.

That Rajbansi did so successfully and built a party that has won parliamentary and council seats in Durban and other parts of KwaZulu-Natal on what is essentially a racist ticket, exhorting people to vote on the basis of their race and ethnicity, is history.

Imagine – a discredited rogue who was so dodgy that even the National Party dumped him, not only survived but flourished in such a beautiful city, drawing voters by appealing to the basest side of their nature and exploiting their fears.

This is the truly disturbing side of Durban, a magnificent city whose beauty and wealth is undermined by its tribalism and backwardness. Only Durban could have birthed and supported a creature whose philosophy was so crass as Rajbansi’s.

The city’s sad reality is that, 17 years after liberation, it still remains so mentally ghettorised, the victim of the competing forms of chauvinism of its people.

Move around the city and the apartheid hangover stares you in the face. The new beachfront is magnificent, but Suncoast beach – out of choice by those who use it – is predominantly an Indian beach. Vetch’s is white and South Beach black.

Pubs and clubs have the same disease: tribalism rules and there are few exceptions where the punters are just punters out for a groove and a drink.

In the institutions of higher learning, students sit in racially defined groups in lectures and during breaks.

The competing chauvinism has also played itself out in the business of the city. The renaming of streets – an appropriate and important exercise – is a case in point. Around 100 of 45 000 streets were renamed by the city.

The opposition went to the highest courts of the land to have the process overturned.

The courts ordered that the process be re-opened in the case of nine streets and buildings only. That new process is almost complete and the nine new names will stay.

This exercise in madness is a symptom of Durban’s disease, an affliction which its new mayor and executive and even newer city manager, S’bu Sithole, has a key role in curing.

This city needs people who can give it real leadership, and take it out of the mental ghettoes its residents occupy.

Durban needs the leadership and the progress that can show its people that they are just that – people – and that can ensure that the political space that the Rajbansis of this world occupy is closed, and closed for good.

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