Indians have never faced such a nightmare like a scenario in South Africa. They always considered themselves as South Africans only. They are only culturally attached to India. They fought valiantly with the black population against inhuman apartheid
As you drive from IG international airport on your way to Central Delhi, you are likely to take Nelson Mandela Marg and then move from Gyrah Murti, symbolises Gandhi’s path-breaking Civil-disobedience movement at Mother Teresa Crescent. And it was Gandhi who was among the first to fight against the revolting racism in South Africa much before his Civil-disobedience movement. Gandhi’s life-long admirer Mandela followed his path. Thanks to Gandhi and Mandela’s deep reverence for Gandhi and his ideals, South Africa has adored India and Indians.
Alas, that very image of South Africa as India’s friendly nation took a huge nosedive as the Indian community faces unprecedented violence and orgy. That too, without any rhyme or reason. Their shops, offices, buildings are ransacked and vandalised. They are on the receiving hand in a land that was adopted by their forefathers long back.
South Africa is home to the largest population of people of Indian descent in Africa, at over 14 lakhs, mainly in Durban. In fact, Durban is also called the “largest Indian city outside India”. When the Indian Cricket team plays there, one can see a sea of tri-colour flags. The Durban stadium looks like Kotla or Wankhade. The city is dotted with schools run by people of Indian descent and temples.
And yes, Durban is part of KwaZulu-Natal province that has seen gory clashes over the last couple of weeks. And this is also a stronghold and home province of former South African president Jacob Zuma. Seventy-nine years old, Zuma has a very chequered career graph. He was imprisoned with anti-apartheid champion Mandela for ten years. And, he has also faced charges of rape and graft. Recently, Zuma was convicted of contempt of court after failing to attend an inquiry into corruption during his presidency. He was avoiding imminent arrest, and in this interim period, violence broke out there.
In recent years, Zuma was also facing flak for brazenly helping an Indian immigrant business family, Gupta, to grow thick and fast in-lieu of cash and more. The Gupta family had massive interests in Coal Mining, uranium deposits, media outlets, computer companies, and arms suppliers. However, their swift growth with alleged unfair means has created a deep divide among South Africans and the local Indian community. Their cool and friendly relations have touched a nadir. The majority-black South African community identify Gupta with their Indian community. That was a trigger point of clashes. They have never faced such rough weather there since ages.
Indians, who came to South Africa under British rule in the 1860s as indentured labourers and traders, were at the forefront of the country’s anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles. The first, over 340 of them came on board from the then Madras. They were transported as indentured labourers to work on the sugarcane plantations of Natal. Around two lakh Indians arrived as indentured labourers over a period of five decades. They were Tamil, Telugu and the Bhojpuri as well Awadhi speaking Indians. Some Gujaratis were also there.
The descendants of those indentured labourers had always supported Zuma and African National Congress (ANC). The love and affection was mutual. Zuma has always stood by them. While it is still unclear why rampaging mobs were targeting Indians in mainly Durban and Johannesburg, some media reports suggest that miscreants were given free run by the South African government led by President Cyril Ramaphosa to disgrace Zuma. It is also an indication that now African National Congress (ANC) is a divided house. It is led by two rival factions Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, respectively.
Seriously, Indians have never faced such a nightmare like a scenario in South Africa. They always considered themselves as South Africans only. They are only culturally attached to India. They fought valiantly with the black population against inhuman apartheid. Mandela had several life-long Indian origin comrades like Ismail Meer, Mac Maharaj, JN Singh, Ahmed Bhoola, and Ramlal Bhoolia. These leaders apart, the Indian housewives, priests, doctors, lawyers, traders, students, and workers, actively took part against racist apartheid.
Further, Mandela’s first cabinet had an Indian and Gandhi connection as Ila Gandhi, the granddaughter of the apostle of peace, was there. Daughter of Gandhi’s second son, Mani Lal, Ila is a fiery speaker and ANC activist. Mani Lal had settled in South Africa and was editing Gandhi’s Indian Opinion. He had never returned to India. Thus, the legacy of Gandhi was kept alive by them once Bapu left South Africa in 1915.
Sadly, the legacy of Gandhi has shattered now. The rioters and their leaders are insulting anti-apartheid icon Mandela, too. He had a special bond with India. After he was released in 1990 after spending 27 years in Jail, he chose the land of Gandhi, whom he called his “political guru” and a “role model”, as his first destination abroad. In fact when he was released from prison in 1990, India conferred him with the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian honour. Remember, this was even before he got the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993. Mandela was the first non-Indian recipient of Bharat Ratna.
And spare a thought for Indian community, spending their blood, sweat, tear, and toil to build their South Africa. Alas, now they are dubbed as pariahs. They certainly do not deserve such a nasty situation. The South African government must wake- up and quell anti-Indian violence without any delay.
(The writer is author of Gandhi’s Delhi)