A volatile case of Afrikan vs. Indian in KwaZulu-Natal
- Jackie Shandu
- 07 Apr 2015 12:22 (South Africa)
In its seven cardinal pillars and founding manifesto, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) set out to be the voice of the voiceless and hope of the hopeless by opposing injustices and prejudices in all its forms and manifestations: at the workplace, in communities and institutions of higher learning and so forth. In Gauteng, we have seen EFF leaders arriving uninvited in various workplaces, where practices of massive worker exploitation have been reported to the EFF by the victims of exploitation. From raiding white-owned farms to Pick ‘n Pay outlets, EFF leaders have been seen intervening decisively on the part of workers, demanding all sorts of remedies from exploitative racist employers. Such interventions have been resoundingly commended and won the EFF the trust of more sections of the poor in South Afrika.
In a similar fashion, there have been scores of valid and legitimate complaints registered by Afrikan workers in KwaZulu-Natal, who are on the receiving end of abuse and exploitation at the hands of Indian employers/bosses. For known historical reasons, South Afrikan Indians occupy a significantly higher socio-economic status than their Afrikan counterparts, and as result the two often interact and relate as unequals, frequently the former holding and (ab)using power over the latter. Not unlike how most Afrikans often relate with white South Afrikans.
Some graphic description of the situation: A couple of years ago we learnt through research conducted by multiple institutions (Statistics SA, Auditor General, SA Institute of Race Relations, Census SA, etc.) that the average household income in SA is R100k per household. We also learnt that the average white household earns R360k, whilst their Indian, Coloured and Afrikan counterparts earn R250k, R100k and R60k respectively.
What do the above statistics tell us? Concisely: Whites earn six times more than their Afrikan counterparts and 3.6 times the national average; Indians earn over four times what their Afrikan counterparts earn and 2.5 times the national average; and finally that Afrikans earn 40% below national average. We are less concerned about the socio-historical reasons than we are about the various interventions required to address this reality. It is therefore completely unnecessary for some among us to bombard with a history lesson of Apartheid's hierarchy of oppression, no matter how gratifying the reaction may be whenever this issue is raised. Nobody has a monopoly on the knowledge and interpretation of our history and current reality, the arrogance and misplaced righteousness notwithstanding in the minds of those who claim to be the sole heirs of Steve Biko’s social and political thought.
How are we going to confront this socio-economic reality in a manner that moves South Afrika towards an egalitarian society, less fraught with high prevalence of the exploitation and abuse of the many by the few? The EFF has reflected very profoundly and comprehensively on this question and concluded that in all likelihood, social justice in South Afrika will not be attained in one giant leap but through a series of political, social and economic (worker, community, student and human rights) battles that will be fought and won one after the other and culminate in the EFF winning political power, using it decisively to end oppression and equalize society. In other words, for as long as the EFF is not in power it will be compelled to fight for the oppressed and exploited through the mechanisms of, and within the confines of, bourgeois liberal constitutional democracy, which is by definition anti-black and anti-poor.
As already mentioned, the EFF has courageously tested and stretched the confines of bourgeois democracy in a number of ways, in some cases rendering redundant union leaders who, in South Afrika, in most material moments, seem to opt for fraternising with oppressive and exploitative employers instead of genuinely and militantly advancing worker interests. EFF has filled the huge leadership vacuum in South Africa in all spheres of society.
Back to the KZN context and the Indian question: By far the largest concentration of Indian compatriots in South Afrika is in KZN. In fact, it is said that the largest community of Indians outside India is in Durban. For known and mentioned historical reasons, Indians employ a significant portion of Afrikans in KZN and unfortunately, according to the Afrikan employees, Indian employers are as oppressive and exploitative as – if not worse than – their white counterparts. Not only do they overwork and underpay their Afrikan workforce, they also subject them to terrible working conditions and racially abusive work environments. This is according to what EFF leaders and activists have picked up on the ground in the eThekwini region and many other parts of the province.
Secondly, there is overwhelming statistical evidence of shocking overrepresentation of Indian staff in both the public and private sectors, across professions, industries and job ranking. This overrepresentation is matched by that of whites and contrasted by the gross underrepresentation of Afrikans across the board. For instance, in KZN, it can be said without doubt that Indians are the biggest beneficiaries of Affirmative Action/Employment Equity and Black Economic Empowerment legislation. This is in part because of the flawed manner in which these redress interventions are crafted, which does not take into account the hierarchy of marginalisation and oppression during Apartheid. Another reason is that whites are much more comfortable working with Indians than they are with Afrikans, and whenever given a choice (as AA/EE and BEE affords) they choose to 'transform' their establishments through Indians and not Afrikans.
The reasons for this attitude fall outside the scope of this piece, but will be explored in later articles.
Thirdly, in almost all retail outlets, banks, restaurants, firms and factories, Afrikans are always working under Indians, including in establishments where there are no white employees. It is a very common thing to hear a scenario where an Afrikan worker has both the skill and long service experience within an establishment, but is continuously overlooked for promotion and is insulted and humiliated by being made to report to a much younger, inexperienced and less skilled Indian worker who the Afrikan worker mentored and taught how to do the work.
Fourth, Afrikans are incensed at the usual situation, where businesses are located in communities constituted by 100% Afrikan populations, yet the employment opportunities are ridiculously dominated and management positions totally monopolised by Indian workers. This is more painful when considered against the backdrop – the very high unemployment levels in Afrikan communities, sometimes as high as 80%. To see many strangers drive in and out of your neighbourhood every day to earn a decent, honest living, whilst you are relegated to aimless idling, begging or even criminality, is an injurious observation that invites resentment.
To put to test what is written above, I invite all patriotic South Afrikans to go and examine the demographic constitution of Durban University of Technology/University of KwaZulu-Natal academic and non-academic staff, as well the management make-up of both institutions. If that's not enough, I invite doubting Thomases to scrutinise the demographic make-up of the eThekwini municipality junior and senior staff in all departments as well as the municipality’s management. And finally I invite all enquiring minds to look through the patterns of awarding tenders in the same municipality for both small and large contracts in the last five financial years. Indian service providers certainly have an upper hand compared to their Afrikan counterparts and despite all the complaints registered by Afrikan service providers, the pro-Indian patterns of awarding tenders continues unabated and no reasons are provided – neither the City of eThekwini, nor the provincial government of KZN, as to why this is the case.
To raise these issues is not tantamount to endorsing the method of outsourcing provision of social services to our society through profit-driven and often corrupt private service providers (tenderpreneurs). For the record, EFF firmly subscribes to the approach of rapidly building state capacity so as to eliminate the middleman (private service provider) who is ultimately driven by the profit motive and often achieves this objective at the expense of delivering quality and dignified services to the citizen and taxpayer. Ultimately the EFF envisages total abolishment of tenders, also as a way of eradicating corruption in the public sector, which, according to the Auditor General’s report, costs the taxpayer R30 billion per annum.
But as a matter of principle, in the interests of fairness, justice and equality, for as long as the tendering system exists, EFF supports equitable awarding of tenders in a manner that accurately reflects past and current injustices and inequalities.
It is against this backdrop that the leadership of EFF in the eThekwini region has developed a campaign that seeks to draw attention to these understandably sensitive and contentious, yet very critical, social and economic issues which deserve urgent attention from all stakeholders in the region and the broader province of KZN. Contrary to the hogwash peddled by those who claim to be bona fide members of EFF, yet make it their task to undermine and counter every decision and programme adopted by all structures of EFF, this campaign is neither anti-Indian, nor does it seek to spark Afrikan-Indian violent confrontation. Particular Indian-owned establishments which have been reported to exploit and racially humiliate their workers will be raided (paid surprise visits) and thoroughly questioned about their reputation of worker rights violations; slave wages, anti-Afrikan racism, and deliberate underrepresentation of Afrikans in a certain levels of their workforce. Township shopping malls, restaurants and banks will also be visited and questioned about why they overlook people of the communities in which they operate and opt to import Indian workers from neighbouring and distant communities.
Inevitably, the public discourse that will probably accompany this campaign is the plausibility of Steve Biko’s political definition of Blackness, which is constitutive of Afrikans, Indians and Coloureds. Having lived and studied in Durban, and being the honest and frank revolutionary that he was, Biko readily acknowledged and grappled with the hostilities between Indians and Afrikans, largely caused by the former’s insistence on exploiting, prejudicing and violating the latter in the absence of the common oppressor – the white man. We must be able to reflect fearlessly and openly as to whether or not Biko was overambitious in attempting to unite two groups that have had serious tension and violent confrontations since the landing of the first batch of Indians to work in the sugarcane fields in KwaZulu Natal. We must have the courage to look back and check whether Biko’s adventurous political gesture was well received by Indian compatriots. Most importantly, we must seriously think about how best to resolve the hostilities and build genuine unity, either by pretending the hostilities don’t exist and demonising whoever attempts to speak to them, or by confronting them head-on. DM
[Editor’s note: The writer’s choice to spell ‘Afrika’ with a K rather than a C is intentional, not a spelling mistake. Introductory information on the spelling of Afrika can be found here and at various other sources.]