We are all South African

2013-05-22 00:00

THE issue of minorities has dominated public debate recently, following the controversial landing of the Gupta jet from India at the Waterkloof Air Force Base.

I recently attended a meeting in Vryheid where a coloured woman stood up and asserted the all-familiar statement: “During apartheid, coloured people were not white enough and now during the democratic dispensation they are not black enough.”

The most important issue for me here is the attitude of the minorities towards being South African and the African National Congress. The minorities who joined the struggle during apartheid, joined because they identified with the plight of the oppressed, the majority of whom were indigenous Africans. They saw themselves not as Indians and coloureds, but as South Africans fighting with their compatriots against the enemy.

In democratic South Africa, there has been consistency in inclusive government at all levels, reflecting the demographics of the country, but my observation is that as soon as individuals from the Indian, white and coloured communities are elected into government, they are “abandoned” by these communities. What are the reasons for this exactly?

In 1994, soon after the democratic dispensation, Indians and coloureds were elevated to influential positions in politics, government, parastatals as well as academia. That was not done merely to appease them because of their status as minorities; they were appointed into those positions because they are in every imaginable way, part and parcel of South Africa. Why then is it that as soon as they get into these positions, they seemingly get “disowned” by their own? Is it because they are ANC in an ANC government? Is it being part of the majority, or getting too close to indigenous Africans? Is it rejecting being South African? It certainly cannot be that these individuals, many of whom have excellent records and standing in society, suddenly have no relevance and impact on the lives of the people, including those communities of whom they are a product.

I get a sense that minorities have generally abdicated their responsibility towards South Africa, being South African, towards the government and the ANC. This notion of “us and them”, as espoused by the majority of Indian and coloured people, is lethal.

What, for instance, makes the majority of Indians in KZN feel that the party to support is the DA, rather than the ANC? I am sure that there is nothing monolithic about any people, including Indians in KwaZulu-Natal.

The DA has never voluntarily and willingly embraced non-racialism. It has never reflected that in its top leadership structures at any point. The DA sees indigenous African and Indian communities as political markets only. It now sees and treats ANC history as merchandise you can buy and possess by appearing next to the graves of freedom fighters and stalwarts. Throughout the history of the DA, I have no recollection of any Indian person who has held an influential position in the party. Is this not the reflection of how Indians and coloured people are perceived by the DA?

The talk that Indians should apologise for the “shame brought by Guptas upon the Indian community” signifies this lack of nationhood from the majority of Indians in the country. Advocate Kessie Naidu, one of the most respected advocates in the country, in the words of Wole Soyinka, “really jarred both our drink and brain lobes” when he wrote: “I fear that there is a very real possibility that Indians in our country might be tarnished by the same dirty brush.” This is the crux of the matter.

Why would the learned Naidu, and others who think like him, feel that one indiscretion around the Guptas would tarnish the image and bring to question the bona fides of Indians who are South African? Is this not reflective of attempts at self-imposed isolation by minorities, who, in this instance, are Indians? Indians in South Africa are South Africans; they are not the Indians of India. There is no need for Indians to apologise to anybody — not even to contemplate it.

I am not calling for all Indians or minorities to think as a group and vote for the ANC; I am saying South Africans, including in KZN, fought and defeated the white oppressive minority regime. We are all contributing to the growth of South Africa together. What is this feeling of isolation all about?

By the way, journalists and analysts who accuse ANC members of being stupid for voting for Jacob Zuma and the ANC have never accused Indians and coloureds of this for voting for the DA, even though in the DA they are guaranteed no participation in the higher structures of the party. Unlike in the ANC, where Indians and coloureds feel at home and are part and parcel of the structures. People other than indigenous Africans who vote for the ANC do so because they feel a sense of belonging to South Africa.

We in the ANC also need to look inwards. We need to ask ourselves if there is anything that we do or do not do to elicit the feeling of isolation among the minority groups. We need to open and encourage frank dialogue around the issue and the plight of minorities in South Africa.

When all is said and done, minorities need to assert and see themselves as South Africans, because they are in every way part of this country.

• Senzo Mchunu is the chairperson of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. He is also the MEC for education in KZN.

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