On the outside, looking in

2008-07-24 00:00

BIRTHDAYS are a time for reflection. And as South Africa, and the world, reflect on the 90th year of Nelson Mandela, the beloved statesman who was pivotal in freeing our nation from oppression, it is time for broader reflection as well.

Fourteen years into our democracy, a mere handful of Indians are left in the African National Congress, clearly reflecting the ruling party’s current tendency to sideline and so easily forget the contribution of the Indian community to the fight for a new and free South Africa.

In recent months many former activist Indians have been complaining of the purge of Indians from the party and of a general Africanisation of party structures, and a perceived sidelining of other race groups.

In KwaZulu-Natal, where Indians make up a sizeable and economically powerful portion of the population, none with an activist background has been appointed to the cabinet of the provincial government. The ANC has, however, included former tricameral politician Amichand Rajbansi, who has no history in the ANC, and who was chosen simply because his party held the balance of power in the province.

Most of the former activist Indians have views on this state of affairs, but they are tightly locked in the closet. It is time to articulate these concerns.

The new leadership of the ANC has, whether by design or default, marginalised Indian voters as well as alienated, without exception, every single Indian ANC activist who, on principle, refused to stoop to the party’s post-Mandela culture of patronage and cosy backslapping for personal gain.

But the recent political marginalisation of Indians in South Africa is not entirely the ANC’s fault. The community itself is also to blame.

In the post-apartheid era, we have abandoned those principles and ideals we had held so dear throughout our long and honourable history in this country we call home.

From our earliest times here, and particularly during the turbulent fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, large numbers of Indians mobilised to fight apartheid. The final push came in the eighties when Indians played a hugely significant role in the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement to unseat the apartheid government.

Sadly, these individuals, who through their dedication and principled patriotism, helped topple an evil regime, now seem uninterested in the ideals they held so dear — charity, political participation and human rights.

Indians, for the most part, shunned the apartheid government’s sham tricameral parliament that sought to divide and rule. This was because of the Don’t Vote campaign by the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the UDF.

We sacrificed, and yes, we were not subjected to the same hardships as our African comrades, but we did suffer and we did contribute to the struggle for freedom in this country.

Many of us who were active in the early and late eighties are probably now aged 35 to 50. We are educated, career driven and have families to take care of. We are comfortable. But, sadly, we are also generally selfish and self-centred, seemingly concerned only with our own narrow interests, politically speaking. The “I” factor has taken over and we don’t give a damn about the degradation of our society or the politically clueless children we have been raising.

Our children, for the most part, are not interested in bread-and-butter issues. They are not involved, nor have they much interest in, charitable institutions or political organisations. Yes, many are put off by the way politics has descended into a sordid and corrupt pastime that seems to attract, for the most part, the unsavoury and the self-serving. But that’s no excuse. Right-thinking individuals need to remain civic-minded and to seize back the moral high ground that has been lost.

It would be interesting to know how many Indians actually belong to the ANC Youth League, the nursery for future party leaders.

We need to look critically at the political future of Indians in this country and examine why we have a leadership vacuum and no credible organisation representing our views, hopes and aspirations.

The illusion that all Indians are rich and drive a Mercedes-Benz needs to be corrected. Most Indians still live in townships created by apartheid and work for a boss. Yes, a great many in disproportion to our numbers have done extremely well, but they by no means reflect the majority. Most Indians are in no different a position than their middle-class or low-income African counterparts. Why then, do we as a community sit back and accept the roughshod treatment meted out by the new leadership of the ANC?

We are tired of the ANC appointing tricameralists to their ranks, or cavorting with the nouveau riche Indians at fancy cocktail and birthday parties — those same Indians who were conspicuous by their absence in the struggle.

The time has come for all former ANC and NIC activists to speak out against this charade. We must not sit back and let our legacy drain away until we have no energy left to change the course of backslapping politics.

The net result of a lack of action will be a complete loss of support for the ANC in this community, which will be a very sad day. We fought alongside Africans for freedom and we should continue to fight together for change.

Most, if not all, Indians still actively involved in the ANC have pecuniary reasons for being in politics. They are either funding political figures, funding the party, hosting birthday parties, holding positions in local, national or provincial government, or some quasi-government organisation, and feel constrained to speak out.

How many times have you been reminded by an African person in the government that you are not black, but Indian?

What has given rise to this state of affairs? Our armchair status.

Most of the current crop of ANC leaders are not well known to UDF or NIC activists. And even the Indian lackeys have failed to make it to any leadership positions in the ANC’s eThekwini region or its provincial executive, under Dr Zweli Mkhize.

Meanwhile, the ANC leadership has been openly cavorting with a select group of Indian businessman who had links to the tricameral parliament, and with Indians who played no role in the fight for change.

How comfortable the ANC has become with Indians who cosied up to the Nats, while at the same time shunning its own loyal, die-hard party veterans.

Is it not strange that Indians still occupy positions of authority in the administration of this country, yet we are not good enough to hold political positions in the ruling party?

Now, I can hear the chorus going: what about the deputy mayor of Durban? Please — this is merely a ceremonial position and purely a sop to garner Indian support in elections.

The ANC must now explain to us why, under the government of Nelson Mandela, Indians continued to be seen as integral to the ANC, yet 10 years later we are treated with contempt.

The number of Indians in the Mandela government was so, so different. Kader Asmal, Valli Moosa, Mac Maharaj, the Pahad brothers, Jay Naidoo, Ahmed Kathrada and others played important roles. What has changed for the ANC to now shun the people who helped free this great country of ours?

Indians are good enough for African political figures to join in business to bid with for contracts and to share the spoils but these new leaders are unwilling to share political power. Yet they expect Indians to vote for the ANC in the next election.

As for the so-called Indian think-tank in the ANC, its members are so out of touch with reality it is frightening. Take for example the last election in Chatsworth. The ANC candidate was trounced. The party wonders why. The answer is simple. The ANC has surrounded itself with a clique of Indians who are cocktail circuit socialites who contribute nothing, or a pittance, to the community, either in cash or time.

These Indians are effectively silenced: if they say anything that runs contrary to the party line it will cost them their party jobs or their next party-brokered business deal.

If Mkhize, the KwaZulu-Natal ANC’s new chairman, wants to remedy matters, he should look to individuals with a track record of working in the community. It is to these patriots he should look if he wants to woo Indians back to the ANC, where we belong because of our history and common purpose.

The contributions of Billy Nair, Ismail Ebrahim, George Sewpersadh, M. J. Naidoo, George Naicker, Paul David, the Meers, the Hurbans, E. V. Mahomedy, Tees Mistry, Pravin Gordhan, Shoots Naidoo, Alf Karrim, Yunus Mahomed, Abba Omar, Jay Naidoo, Mac Maharaj, Saths Cooper, Strini Moodley, Ahmed Kathrada, Zac Yacoob and a host of others will be in vain if both the ANC and concerned Indians allow the degeneration to continue.

We need to hold a symposium on the political future of the Indian in the ANC and engage the leadership of the ANC to place this matter at the top of the agenda long before the next election.

• E-mail all your comments and views to hareshouderajh@yahoo.com

• Haresh Ouderajh is the publisher of the Eastern Express and CEO of ExpressMedia.

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