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Anti-Indian resentment

08 July 2014, 05:00

One of the most far-reaching effects of Apartheid was the role it played in generating extreme economic inequality between race groups in South Africa. Not only does South Africa have among the highest levels of inequality in the world, this inequality is strongly racial in nature. Recently we have seen the re-emergence of interracial resentment which has been largely reported as blacks vis-a-vis white on the one hand and intra-blacks resentment on the other.

The most salient and dangerous element of the intra-blacks resentment is what has become known as the ‘anti-Indian’ resentment which is said to be on the rise. It is my argument that we have not seriously addressed the political economy of this phenomenon accordingly the manner in which we try to address this despotic tendency becomes inadequate and will not yield the desired results but may rather perpetuate and entrench it. 

In KwaZulu Natal (KZN), for an example, a group calling itself Mazibuye African Forum has called for the "liberation of KwaZulu-Natal from Indians”. The group is advocating for some “Indian-owned land” to be distributed to Africans and for “Indians to lose their BEE status”, among other things.

In an attempt to trace the origins of this backward tendency Andile Mgxitama, in the Mail & Guardian, traces the anti-Indian sentiments to the landing of the Gupta plane at Waterkloof airbase. He argues that the “Gupta’s display” the “most vulgar way” that shows that Africans suffer from “self-hatred”.

One would imagine that Mgxitama’s argument is that this tendency rides on the bandwagon of African “self-hatred” and “Indian” arrogance as displayed by the Gupta plane landing at Waterkloof airbase. As to how the Gupta saga is evidence of African self-hate can only be imagined by Mgxitama.

In my view, the so called African-Indian acrimony can be traced back to the 1950s. In 1949, public rioting against Indians engulfed the city of Durban and its surrounds, even threatening to spread to Mahatma Gandhi’s experimental ashram of non-violence in Phoenix. In 1951, a young Nelson Mandela wrote of his personal doubts and those of his fellow African nationalists towards South African Indians.

“Many of our grassroots African supporters saw Indians as exploiters of black labour in their role as shopkeepers and merchants,” he said. Mandela’s assertion is valid today!

Very recently we have been inundated with stories of Gandhi’s passionate bigotry towards black Africans. It is said he promoted racial hatred, in theory, and campaigned for racial segregation, in practice. In his newspaper, The Indian Opinion, it is said he frequently wrote diatribes against the black community. Of particular concern to him was any contact between Indians and Africans.

To substantiate the claim, one quote attributed to Gandhi goes; “Under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population” (1904).

I can still remember in the 1985, while 13 years old, during the protests against the Tricameral Parliament attacks against Indian settlements were launched. An Indian settlement near where I grew up (KwaMashu K-section) known by the landowner’s surname, kwaBeharie (now between Newlands West and Richmond farm in Durban), was torched down. Similar attacks were launched in the Phoenix and other settlements.

Personally, I experienced this when I dated an “Indian woman” who told me stories of her fellow “Indians” calling her a “kaffirf#@&!r”. These were senior public servants in a post-apartheid South Africa. I can also remember in 2004, on the ANC campaign trail, when we visited a suburb close to Dundee where the home helpers (African maids) would tell us that their ‘Indian madams and sirs’ have confiscated their identity documents so that they do not vote for Mandela.

To ignore or dismiss the existence of this undeclared animosity would be short-sighted. On the surface at least, there can be no doubt that the national question in a post-apartheid South Africa has become more pressing and urgent. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to allow oneself to be carried away and only see the South Africa of post 1994 through rose-coloured spectacles.

First and foremost; we must never lose sight of the fact that apartheid capitalism has always been about winning the so called coloured and Indian peoples as allies of the minority monopoly. This, of course, follows the logic of apartheid reasoning.

The plan has been to first break the unity of the African people by dismembering them into ethnic groups and dispersing them among the nine Bantustans. Having done that, the whites would still find themselves outnumbered by Africans in the rest of so called 'white South Africa'. So, some sort of equilibrium would be necessary. Hence the so called coloureds and Indians must be detached from the Africans and won over to the side of the whites.

This apartheid conning is perpetrated to this day and its psychological, social, economic and spatial manifestations are clearly visible. It is very evident in the racial breakdown of income as proxied by household per capita expenditure where the so called Indians follow the whites in a relatively distant second, followed by coloureds and then Africans.

While we have seen tremendous progress in education trends, which are partly related to changes in access to education, the patterns within individual race and gender groups reveal a general upgrading in education levels amongst all groups, although inter-racial comparisons continue to reflect historical education patterns that arose within the context of apartheid.

For an example, according to the Household Survey, Africans and coloureds most often have incomplete secondary education; while on the other hand, Indians and whites are most often in possession of a matric certificate.

Unemployment rate in South Africa continue to be defined and explained by race, gender, age, location & schooling. While unemployment rates for black South Africans hover around 30%, rates for white, Indian, and coloured South Africans are much lower. Apartheid, then, clearly bears much of the responsibility for resultant crisis where there is inter-and intra-race tension leading to resentments that we see today. However, it’s not the whole story.

For as long as a number of our African brothers and sisters continue to regard themselves as accidents of nature; the shackles of apartheid will fix them to victim mentality and dependency syndrome.

I intend not to underscore the fact that apartheid created a number of structural problems that will take a very long time to solve, but to look for scapegoats by perpetuating despotic anti-Indian sentiments is no solution.  As Africans we need to look hard at the mirror and decide to break the apartheid psychology that imprisons us.

While progressive policies have been enacted, the truth is that we have not undertaken a deliberate self-emancipation project. Such a project has its genesis in the mind.

It’s hard to swallow the fact that South Africans spend almost four times more on alcohol than on out of pocket healthcare, over one and a half times more on clothes than on education and about the same on DStv subscriptions as on retirement annuities. Look at the mirror, what do you see?

The fact that our university graduation rate stands at 15% - one of the lowest in the world – and a dropout rate of about 30% (70% being black Africans) cannot be blamed on Indians. Government continues to increase financial assistance to deserving students who are mainly black African children.

While Higher education still reflects broader inequalities, with the graduation rate for white students more than double that of black students, we cannot blame other people but ourselves. If we do not challenge this, it will be a reality that will definitely reproduce racial inequalities well into the future.

There is no doubt that the national question in South African politics was originally introduced for economic motives. Those who perpetuate racial resentment of any kind must remember the Biafra (Nigeria) and Katanga (Democratic Republic Congo) civil wars and know that the Africa of the 21st century can ill afford their repeat, especially here in the South.  I feel it is about time we killed false political escapism manifesting as anti-Indian resentment because it is set up on a wrong analysis of the situation.

I would argue that focusing on superficial happenings without pinpointing to the root causes will only drift us apart and deepen the tensions. Neither is banning songs that highlight this challenge a solution nor is setting up commissions. This is a social problem whose solution is embedded in individuals, families, and communities.

We must ask the right questions. We must always remember that the bonds that tie us, as South Africans irrespective of colour, are cemented in blood of our fallen heroes and heroines. We cannot believe that our circumstances are a deliberate creation of God or an artificial fabrication.

In other words our approach cannot be based on resentments but on positive goals that add to our liberation endeavours. This is important because we must understand that the anomalous situation we find ourselves in was deliberately man-made for the reasons mentioned.

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