Disclaimer and advisory – this columnist is neither a mob psychologist nor a Gucci Marxist-Lennist! This column may offend disciples of Idi Amin and other bigots.
Believe it or not, third, fourth and fifth generation South Africans of Indian descent owe Julius Sello Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a deep debt of gratitude and appreciation.
Malema is right that there are racists in the Indian community. But there are also racists in the white, coloured, Chinese, Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi and other communities. However, in his infinite wisdom, Malema has decided to tarnish most Indians as racists. In doing so he also emerges as a bigoted, prejudiced and promoting hate speech, in which he excels – conduct unbecoming of someone who aspires to be a president of South Africa.
Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela poses a critical question:
“As we confront alleged and perceived racism, sexism, disability discrimination and other forms of bigotry today, shouldn’t we ask if we have truly transcended the legacy of our unjust past, where the hierarchisation of difference was not just the order of the day, but also a legal requirement?”
Malema was described as the ANC’s “dilemma” (before his expulsion), and has previously faced charges of promoting hate speech. An ANC veteran described Malema as “an angry young man, whose party is nothing but a product of our own failure as the ANC. This is a young man that we taught and nurtured him to spew bile”.
When he was learning the art of politics while sitting at the feet of his (former) guru, Jacob Zuma, Malema knew of crooked and rogue SA Indians (to differentiate from the Gupta state capturers), and he should expose them (and some of their names are in Jacques Pauw’s book). Those who are corrupt are drinking the blood of the poor. However, do not smear the entire community.
It would appear that Malema, Floyd Shivambu and Dali Mpofu are following and promoting the Idi Amin handbook. Arguing in City Press that there was an “Irresistible comparison with Idi Amin”, ANC veteran Mavuso Msimang succinctly summarises the implications:
“History, it must be stated, is replete with examples of dire consequences that befall societies when ethnicity is recklessly used for opportunistic short-term ends. In the late 1960s, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled tens of thousands of Asians from the country on the pretext that they were involved in economic sabotage. He was widely cheered for this by people who saw it as giving them the opportunity to take possession of shops abandoned by the expelled citizens. Before long, Amin turned to indigenous Ugandans and conducted an ethnic purge that resulted in at least 100,000 deaths during his nine-year rule. This is only one of many examples of ugly ethnicity-based atrocities around the world.”
The Sowetan warned that “Malema should think carefully about employing the kind of rhetoric that focuses on driving a wedge among the oppressed. It is a slippery slope down the path of reactionary and narrow-nationalism and ethnic politics.”
And as the erstwhile Malema grows and matures by degrees (by his own admission a late bloomer academically), he will learn that indentured labourers arrived in SA in the 1860s under circumstances that can now be described as human trafficking, or what Marxist historian Hugh Tinker described in 1974 as a ‘new form of slavery’:
“Being treated as beast of burdens, enticed to come to the so-called New World as contract/bound wage labourers, on the pretext that life would be better than the conditions to be left behind, assistance with return passage, and reward of land, fell short of standards comparable to human dignity and respect … Irrespective of outlook, none can deny indentured servitude was a debasement of human dignity and respect.” (Guyana Chronicle, 14/3/2017).
The first discriminatory legislation targeting Indians was Law 3 of 1885 in the Transvaal where Asians were denied civic and political rights, and were forced to live in racially segregated locations. Between 1885 and 1950 there were 69 laws and amendments promulgated by the colonial and apartheid authorities, with the sole purpose of decimating the Indian community in South Africa.
In its 1948 election manifesto, the National Party (NP) argued that the Indians were “a foreign clement which cannot be assimilated in the South African set-up … We accordingly have in mind the repatriation of as many Indians as possible, a first step towards which will be a thorough investigation of the feasibility of large-scale repatriation, enlisting the co-operation of India… This matter is of such urgency that South Africa should be prepared for a substantial sacrifice in order to finance such an undertaking.”
It would appear that Malema and the EFF are trying to succeed where the NP had failed.
Malema is basically a demagogue – “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument”. In October 2010, when he was the leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema referred to “amakula” (a derogatory term for Indians) when addressing a meeting in Thembelihle, “where service-delivery protests have been lent a sharper edge by perceptions that Indian residents of nearby Lenasia are treated better by the government”.
The Times questioned Malema’s motives, and warned about its ominous consequences:
“What is Malema’s intention in using such language – perhaps to incite a Rwandan-style genocide? We are no rainbow nation. That much is clear. And the glibness with which supposed leaders manipulate race and dispossession to fight their causes will surely come back to haunt us all. We have already witnessed the shocking atrocity of foreigners being attacked and killed in South Africa. This time, if we are not careful, it will be our people who are targeted.”
The Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg, Reverend Dr Steve Moreo, accused Malema and his colleagues of hate speech:
“The comments that have been made are nothing more than hate speech – a political tool that is reminiscent of the most abhorrent racism of apartheid against which millions of South Africans fought to attain their freedom in 1994. Their attacks are such that I fear we may be beginning to see a roll-back of the very freedoms for which great men and women of the struggle fought.”
A party that was established on an anti-Zuma ticket would struggle to survive after the exit of the former president. So, a new enemy had to found – enter the meek, docile Indian, the new sacrificial lamb. Vukani Mde has argued in the Mail and Guardian, that:
“By targeting Indians in particular, the party [EFF] is seeking to outflank the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, where this sort of ethnocentric politics is likely to find resonance.”
Mde warns ominously that the next target could well “be the coloured community in the Western Cape, where, if anything, the divisions are even more stark and ripe for political manipulation”.
For South African Indians, the sustained attack from the EFF leadership is a wake-up call. The new generation Indian elite, with a few exceptions, like their other South African counterparts, selfishly pursue mindless material accumulation and conspicuous consumption, in sharp contrast to the sharing, caring and welfare orientation of their ancestors. As racism, tribalism, ethnic chauvinism, xenophobia, cronyism and the celebration of mediocrity become more pronounced in the new South Africa, the passive descendants of indentured labourers increasingly feel disillusioned, marginalised and anxiously retreat into their religious and cultural cocoons.
The present state of affairs is not a bad dream that will simply go away. In recent years there have been chants of “Hamba khaya! Hamba uye eBombay” (Go home! Go home to Mumbai!) from people aligned to the ruling ANC party in Durban. As the South African transition fails to deliver on its promises, so the search for scapegoats will begin. DM
Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity.