Saturday, August 15, 2009
ANC Administration sows seeds of Racial discord
Trevor Ngwane Eye on Civil Society column (The Mercury) 22 July 2009
SHOUTS of "Hamba khaya! Hamba uye eBombay!" (Go home! Go to Bombay!)
rang out, seemingly crystallising the mood of some of those at the
public meeting called by the Durban city fathers at the ICC on July 10.
The meeting concerned the impending closure of the Early Morning Market,
which is hotly contested by traders of all races.
Later that afternoon I returned to my Chatsworth flat a troubled person.
Most of my neighbours are of Indian descent, and since I moved here a
few months ago from Soweto, they have treated me like one of their own.
As a youngster growing up in Lamontville we had stone throwing
skirmishes across the Umlazi River with our Chatsworth neighbours. We
all laughed hard when, in a candid moment of neighbourly bonding, I told
that story to a group of Chatsworth youngsters. Everyone thought it was
a joke. But suddenly, thanks to the meeting I attended, it is no longer
There was hostility and hatred among some of the people listening to the
mayor and the city manager explain why the market had to go.
It was naive for any of us to imagine that decades of racism would
simply disappear because our country has adopted a democratic
constitution that outlaws racial discrimination.
My socialist political convictions compel me to watch out for and to
combat racism with the same vigour in the new South Africa as I did in
the days of apartheid.
Roy Chetty, the chairman of the Early Morning Market Support Group, was
disturbed by the racism directed against people of Indian descent.
He objected to the decision by Mayor Obed Mlaba to speak only in
isiZulu, despite many traders not understanding fully what he was saying
about an issue that concerns them directly.
The mayor opened his speech saying he assumed that as South Africans all
of us present should be able to understand isiZulu since it was after
all one of the 11 official languages. But since not everyone knows
isiZulu, Mlaba's message contained a provocative sub-text: if you don't
understand isiZulu this might not be your meeting.
Even when translation was later provided for the other speakers it left
a lot to be desired. The translation from Isizulu to English was
selective. A lot was left out by the translator, either because he
didn't like translating travesty or the intention was to keep English
speakers ignorant about what was being said.
If you understood isiZulu the message was crystal clear. Sometimes it
was stated outright, other times it was oblique, implied or
idiomatically expressed. The message? The Indians are a problem.
Despite city manager Michael Sutcliffe's cogent Power Point
presentation, many people left the ICC thinking that the main social
benefit of getting rid of the market was getting rid of the Indians and
that the proposed mall would provide business opportunities to
long-denied Africans. (In reality, it will be chain stores of
multinational corporations who will take the biggest mall locations.)
Councillor Majola, who was chairing the meeting, quoted an old "ANC
strategy and tactics document" stating that the struggle was about
liberating blacks in general and Africans in particular. A senior city
official was less restrained. "Kufanele sibakhiphe iqatha emlonyeni" (we
must remove the piece of meat from their mouths).
Given South Africa's past, the accusations of racism and exploitation
levelled at some elements within the Indian merchant class are valid.
Capitalism continues unabated in South Africa and where there is
capitalism there is exploitation and oppression. Yet this should not be
One thing that has struck me about Durban is the widespread anti-Indian
feeling among many Africans.
As one worker complained to me, recently: "The Indians and the
makwerekwere will run this country." Makwerekwere is the extremely
derogatory - and deadly - term used for Africans who originate outside
of South Africa.
But ordinary working class people are not born racist or xenophobic.
These ideas are entrenched by the system.
Political and business leaders sometimes peddle racist ideas. But
ideology is not just words, it is also practice. When people are forced
to compete over crumbs, when the only way to go up is to push someone
else down, then don't be surprised when anti-social attitudes abound.
When people are victimised or denied economic opportunities because of
their race or the perceived machinations of a racially defined cabal we
can expect racist attitudes. Towards the end of his life the American
black power leader Malcolm X, who fought racism by calling for black
separatism, realised the futility of this approach.
Two wrongs don't make a right. As a devout Muslim Malcolm met white
Muslims for the first time in his pilgrimage to Mecca and returned a
changed man, espousing class rather than race strategy to rid the world
of injustice and inequality.
Nelson Mandela was exemplary in embracing his racist enemies as fellow
human beings. What he failed to realise was that a system designed to
make the rich richer and the poor poorer invariably breeds racism,
sexism and other forms of oppression. In his long road to freedom he
took a short cut - he fought racism but ducked the fight against its
true source: the economic system of exploitation.
This is the trap the eThekwini Municipality is creating for itself. By
deploying capitalist forces to solve the Warwick Junction hubbub of
urbanisation, they will be forced to attack the many in favour of the
few. They seem to be doing that with their ill-conceived plan to destroy
the livelihoods of hundreds of people associated with the market.
The 1949 Durban anti-Indian race riot left 142 people dead. In May 2008
the xenophobic attacks left 62 dead.
The ANC administration in Durban should refrain from sowing dragon's
teeth as they appeared to be doing at the meeting. In their eagerness to
win the argument, they retraced their steps away from South Africa's
non-racial vision. Respect and fairness should be accorded to everyone,
irrespective of country of origin or historical origins of our ancestors.
# Trevor Ngwane is a masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
Centre for Civil Society.
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