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Time to Change the Narrative of the Indian Whipping Boy

PR Dullay is an academic, author, columnist, environmental and human rights activist. He fled the country in 1978 to Denmark with his wife, Mala, and daughter after two assassination attempts. Mala and the writer also taught at the ANC school in Morogoro, Tanzania in 1981-82. The Dullays were central to a number of anti-apartheid campaigns that increasingly isolated the apartheid regime. The family returned to South Africa in 1992.

How come one seldom hears about tensions between Africans and other large minority groups? Perhaps it is because there is a vested interest in keeping the anti-Indian trope alive and not so well.

To a foreigner who follows SA newspapers for news, s/he must believe that tensions are just between the Indian and African communities. They must believe that Indians are the perrenial “problem”, are anti-black and are all super-rich at the cost of black South Africa.

This then must presuppose that all other communities are living in complete harmony with the black majority of their new democracy and that the focus must be to target this particular group to reform and change its path of development and socialisation.

Have we even begun to examine relations between some large minority groups and Africans? To name but a few there are the Portuguese, Greek, Afrikaner, English, French, Chinese, Ex Rhodesians, Jewish, Pakistani and Bangladeshi, Somalians and Zimbabweans, East Europeans and Scandinavians.

It is rare (if ever) to read of “tensions” between any one of these groups and black South Africans. Yes, we have the episodes of the ugliness of xenophobia that target mainly African nationals for reasons that defy logic.

Is it asking too much for just a bit of introspection and a modicum of honesty? The “whipping boy” of race relations has become the Indian South African who is portrayed as being in a state of constant tension with the black majority. Is this based on evidence emerging from serious research or is it a perception?

Or perhaps it is a manufactured “tension” that sells newspapers? Any reader will see the repeated pattern over the years. Facts don’t really matter. It is based on perceptions and the digging up of Indians to strengthen the racist perceptions to boot. They found one at the recent Diaspora Conference and no doubt there will be others, who for reasons of a selfish self-presevation, will regurgitate the “unfairness of Indians who disrespect their black compatriots”!

How can it be that there is little, if no, tension with the perpetrators of the abomination of apartheid, many of whom still remain the captains of industry and those who are frantically trying to reinvent themselves as democrats? Whatever happened to the murderers of Steve Biko and Ahmed Timol, of the killers of Imam Haroon and Josph Mduli, of the killers of Dr Farouk Haffejee?

The reality is that they enjoy their twilight years on state pensions, while the victims’ families, after decades, still try to seek answers. What happened to the architects of the dumping grounds of Dimbaza and Limehill where thousands died of malnutrition and disease?

In the name of fairness it is time to change the narrative and move away from using the Indian as the whipping boy. If we are to honestly look at the reality of race relations in post-1994 SA, we will have to undertake research informed by a balanced set of internationally accepted principles.

Such research will have to be funded and carried out by credible social scientists. The results of such research will then give us factual data that can then be used to repair the lines of fracture in our society. The outcome must not be to deepen racial fissures, but to implement programmes to combat racism in all its forms.

It is time to dispel the myths and expose their dispensers. This is not to excuse the racists and exploiters in our midst. They exist, but so do they exist in all communities across SA. Government must play a significant role in such programmes in concert with civil society. We have done too little to combat the racism that was apartheid’s strongest pillar. The effects of this legacy will not disappear of its own accord. It has seeped far too deeply into our consiousness. It has to be addressed creatively so that we build bridges of goodwill and communication across all communities.

We have the potential to become the teachers to the world about inter racial harmony and understanding. Let us build on the Mandela legacy of love, compassion, understanding and reaching out. I fervently believe that it can be done. DM

P R Dullay is an academic, author, columnist and human rights activist. Respond to [email protected]


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