Racism continues to bedevil South Africa 24 years after the historic democratic elections. Recent examples include Penny Sparrow, who referred to black people as monkeys, and use of the k-word by Adam Catzavelos, Alochna Moodley and Danielle de Bruyne, respectively. The latter three lost their jobs. Sparrow was found guilty of crimen injuria and hate speech, and was fined R5,000 or 12 months in prison. In Chatsworth there were allegations that the ANCYL regional executive committee member in eThekwini, Suzanne Govender, “called fellow party members the K-word” and was forced to resign.
It is disturbing that such offensive utterances are becoming a regular occurrence and are beginning to permeate government institutions. A good example would be the case of the Durban Metro.
Over the years, it would appear that an incipient institutional bias has been emerging within the higher echelons of the Durban Metro that stereotypes and targets South Africans of Indian descent.
For example, at the height of the struggle to save the Warwick Market, at a meeting convened by the Durban Metro on 10 July 2009 at the International Convention Centre (ICC), cries of “Hamba khaya! Hamba uye eBombay!” (Go home! Go to Bombay!) reverberated in the presence of senior ANC officials, including Logie Naidoo and Obed Mlaba. Eyewitness Lubna Nadvi said:
“The most shocking aspect of the meeting was the racialised language used by management… Dr [Michael] Sutcliffe (former municipal manager of the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality) referred to the… Indian market on more than one occasion, attempting to create the impression that those who were fighting to keep it were actually pro-Indian and by implication anti-African”.
According to another eyewitness and civil society activist, Trevor Ngwane, “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”.
Wikileaks records revealed that at another public meeting about the Warwick Mall organised by the eThekwini municipality on 17 July 2009, “the Head of eThekwini Business Support and Markets Philip Sithole declared: ‘Let us take the food from the mouths of the Indians! Now is the time for Africans to be in power! We will remove them all and replace them with blacks’.”
While the municipality subsequently distanced itself from such comments, Ngwane warned that 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”.
More recently, in March 2018, there were reports that an employment equity bill was being drafted that would prevent Indian males from applying or being considered for promotion at senior management levels (grades 14-25). Political analyst Thabani Khumalo warned that many municipalities were “exposed due to lack of skills and experience to address issues affecting residents… Politicians are failing to implement the right policies because they want to take decisions that make them popular, but which collapses the municipality”.
Last week there were allegations in the media that a senior manager in the Durban Metro, in a recorded cellphone conversation with another colleague, had used the C-word to refer to Krish Kumar, the city’s chief financial officer since 2001. In May 2018, Kumar, who manages a R45bn budget, was named Public Sector CFO of the Year. According to CFO South Africa, Kumar “had to make tough calls around IT implementation and the Bus Rapid Transit system in eThekwini”.
“He is adept at achieving success in a highly politicised environment and emphasises that a good man cannot be bought. He has 38 years of local government experience and is committed to the triple bottom line‚ financial sustainability and environmental sustainability.”
According to media reports, the senior African official in the Durban Metro referred to Indians as “corrupt c*****s”: “While the Krishes would be quick to investigate and punish our fellow black people, they are corrupt c*****s themselves at SCM (supply chain management); none of them are clean, at the end of the day. When black people are caught on the wrong side of the law, they are crucified, yet supply chain management is full of corrupt c*****s.”
It would appear that the senior manager was trying to subvert the disciplinary process of Zandile Sithole, suspended deputy head of supply chain management, (related to the orange bag tender scandal, now subject of an SIU investigation authorised by President Ramaphosa), and was trying to influence an associate to assist:
“These are the corrupt people I’m still going to deal with, one by one, at an appropriate time. They like to demonise black people. You might find yourself investigated the next day with cooked-up charges introduced for whatever interests these c*****s have. Then you find yourself being a villain. Who will protect you? Krish and the c*****s will not protect you, take it from me. The people that have the audacity to protect you at the municipality are these political figures”.
Councillor Nicole Graham, DA Ethekwini caucus leader, referred the matter to the SA Human Rights Commission, and called on city manager Sipho Nzuza to suspend the alleged offender. Graham said:
“The position… requires a high level of professionalism, impartiality and ethical conduct. His utterances where he admits to trying to subvert a disciplinary process and calls Krish a c***** are completely outrageous. We cannot have racists in the upper echelons of the city, especially when they show such disdain for respected colleagues.
“His admissions that he is bowing to political pressure are very worrying indeed… It is clear, however, that politics is at play behind the scenes in eThekwini and that there is a clear intention from those in power to protect those close to them. His racist disdain for Indian people, who make up a significant part of Durban’s population, is nothing short of disgraceful”.
City manager Nzuza responded:
“We have values that speak to a sense of respect for one another as colleagues and a sense of respect for all races. If there’s proof that these allegations are true, then disciplinary measures will be taken… Our mandate is not to take instructions from politicians as suggested in the recordings. It is a violation of the scope of our work as city officials”.
Kumar expressed disillusionment “because we are striving for unity and diversity in our country. This is what we hoped to achieve when we attained democracy in 1994”.
The senior official implicated denied making pejorative comments about Kumar or Indians and maintained that the recording was a fabrication.
Meanwhile, in another part of Durban, President Ramaphosa — the man many believe is likely to make all the difference — warned the crooks who were plundering the resources of the state that their days were numbered:
“When you do wrong, you must know there will be consequences.”
Addressing the community of Chatsworth at the weekend, Ramaphosa acknowledged that the ANC had retreated from the traditional values set by its founding fathers — integrity, honesty, truthfulness, non-racialism — and was losing its appeal among minority communities. He was committed to a renewal of the ANC, to reclaim lost ground and to turn it into a value-based organisation founded on truth, integrity, honesty and non-racialism, and which would be opposed to all forms of corruption, prejudice and discrimination.
The Durban Metro could well be the arena for an epic battle between the forces of righteousness and unrighteousness. DM
(Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity).