Ferial Haffajee is perhaps our fledgling democracy’s most astute and on-the-ball print editor and I love reading her columns. Over and above that, our country owes her a debt of gratitude for mentoring a whole generation of young journalists in the field of writing without fear or prejudice.
One of the few times when I found myself disagreeing with her though, is on issues raised in her latest column, How the ANC lost the coloured and Indian vote.
Ferial bemoans the fall of the moral stature that the ANC once had in minority coloured and Indian communities. Although, if she were more honest, her heart breaks not because she remembers a time in the 1980s when the ANC were warriors in the communities, but rather when the UDF were - and unfortunately there is a difference.
Reading her article made me think that the inziles and activists of the 1980s probably need to move on. Times have changed. The dark last days of apartheid, which conversely were also the "inspiring" days of the UDF because there was a cause to fight for, are a thing of the past - and community loyalties, as the Indian and coloured communities show, are not cast in stone.
Like Ferial, I grew up knowing Indian communities under apartheid - the Natal areas of Clare Estate, Sydenham, Grey Street, Overport. Unlike Ferial, though, my experience was that the communities were not homogenous in their thinking or their politics - so ascribing an overarching point of view to an entire community based upon the much smaller and less representative Gauteng areas of Fordsburg and Mayfair is dangerous.
And in fact in my experience was that any siding the Indian community had with the UDF actually had less to do with a strong loyalty to it, than that the communities would identify with any movement which was truly non-racialistic and which gave them dignity- so that they could get on with their lives as South Africans.
By and large, the Indian communities, when left to find equilibrium, are not political animals to the exclusion of everything else - they are great entrepreneurs, artisans and creators, and want to continue as such. Actually, they will probably support any party which grants them a society which allows their talents to flourish - and this is exactly the phenomena now occurring which she bemoans.
None of these priorities have changed for these communities - it is just that the party best placed to deliver them under one set of conditions - the struggle for equality and liberty under an oppressive government - is now different to the party best placed to support their needs under another, 30 years later - the business of improving their lot as South Africans in a post-apartheid landscape.
And so her depiction of the "DA's clever boys and girls" to whom Fordsburg and Lenasia are merely minority vote-catching pools is a tempting one to accept - a scar of the morally puny days of the DA under Tony Leon and his "Fight Back" campaign. But just as she exhorts the past "warrior" days of the ANC, bringing to mind its inclusive, non-racialist core under Walter Sisulu, she ignores the fact that the antecedent of the DA was its strong liberal, non-racialist core, typified by Helen Suzman and Harry Oppenheimer.
Ultimately, the reason the ANC lost the Indian vote in these areas is more complex than Ferial asserts. I also grew up in a traditionally Indian area, but the spirit of the community I felt was different from the one Ferial describe. It’s faintly glamorous to depict these communities in those days as being overtly politicised to the point of being nothing else, but that doesn’t understand the nature of the community’s priorities.
Then, as now, these communities valued education, a strong work ethic, and a dedication to improve our lot. The communities I knew wanted their businesses to flourish, wanted to give their children a better education than they had, wanted to be dignified as South Africans. The apartheid policies of the days trampled on these aspirations, and so support for the struggle under the banner of the ANC was created.
But fulfilling these aspirations wasn't and isn't the sole preserve of the ANC, and to suggest it is, is misleading. Indian communities have now embraced the DA because it has shown itself to be the party the freest in its willingness to unhinge itself from its past and to think about the country's future.
The communities weren't duped by a "racial box ticker" masquerading as something else; they were saying that they believe the DA best represents their values of a tolerant, meritocratic society for all. This may prove right or it may prove stillborn. But there’s nothing to be saddened about by this development, as long as you have South Africa’s best interests at heart- and are willing to move on.
- Kalim Rajab works in the diamond industry in Johannesburg and London and was educated at the Universities of Cape Town and Oxford. He writes in his personal capacity.
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