Indians are not a homogeneous group

2008-08-26 00:00

One would have ignored the recent newspaper comments by fellow South Africans of Indian descent stating that Indians will not vote for the African National Congress (ANC), were it not for the fact that rather than dealing with the objective challenges faced by all of us in building a non-racial society, they seem hell-bent on dividing our country across racial and ethnic lines.

While the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, it is our feeling that, in exercising this freedom, we should be guided by a responsibility to build rather than to destroy.

The recent assertion by Shehana Gaibie that: “Indians won’t vote for the ANC bullies, but nor should they abstain” should worry all progressive and forward-looking South Africans. The statement is particularly dangerous as it stems from a former branch secretary of the ANC who, supposedly, should know better.

Everyone has the right to vote. Indeed, all of us have a right to canvass people to vote for our parties or our cause. However, it is arrogantly presumptuous for commentators, with or without struggle credentials, to act as if our Indian compatriots are unthinking voting fodder that can be told who to vote for and who to shun.

More importantly, the idea that Indians are a monolithic bloc and a fickle lot prone to be swayed to exercise their vote this way or the other is not only deeply insulting and patronising, it is downright anachronistic and out of kilter with modern political thinking. Indians, like all race groups in South Africa, are a multilayered community, defined by many facets such as class, religion and gender. They are a community of individuals bound by a common heritage and future.

That these rantings are made by individuals who are seen to have struggle credentials does not mean that they are the gospel truth. The objective reality is that, while the majority of South Africans of Indian descent were on the side of the progressive forces in the fight against racial domination, there were also those who participated with glee in establishments that delayed our freedom, like the Tricameral Parliament.

It is also an objective fact that there are those who joined the progressive forces after having been linked with the apartheid forces.

We must distinguish between forces that fought for democracy and those who find themselves having to operate within a democracy while they do not necessarily embrace democratic principles. This is a subtle but fundamental difference. Gaibie’s assertions seem to belong to the latter.

It must be said that compatriots of Indian origin have acquitted themselves excellently in our struggle for freedom. Mahatma Gandhi continues to inspire progressive forces in their quest to build a just and prosperous world. The Three Doctors Pact, co-signed by doctors Xuma, Naicker and Dadoo in 1947, attests to the solidarity that has characterised our struggle and a unity of purpose that saw beyond myopic ethnic classifications.

However, ethnicism and racism threaten to rear their ugly heads again and should not be allowed the space to do so. They are powerful enemies because even a stalwart of our struggle, Professor Fatima Meer, has been caught by their fangs. It is sad that this veteran of many battles against apartheid has reverted to a stance that is a sure bet to rip South Africa asunder. It is also sad that her utterances do not only blot her political copybook but spoil the brilliant legacy of her husband, I. C. Meer, who spent his last breath in the selfless service of our people as a member of Parliament.

Like all of us, South Africans of Indian descent have a responsibility to safeguard and nurture our fledgling democracy. Let South Africans make political choices that cement democracy rather than reversing our hard-won political freedoms. We must, therefore, reject with the contempt that it deserves, the notion of painting South Africans of Indian descent as a homogeneous group that is readily available to be manipulated.

• Michael Mabuyakhulu is the MEC for Local Government, Housing and Traditional Affairs. He writes in his capacity as a member of the ANC. Telephone: 031 310 4500. Fax: 031 368 1725.

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