ANC administration sows seeds of racial discord

In Tearing Ourselves Apart on July 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm

July 22, 2009 Edition 1

Trevor Ngwane, The Mercury

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 a joke.

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 generalised.

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.


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