Opinion

I will not be silenced by EFF's race campaign against SA's Indian community

24 June 2018 - 00:00

'America for Americans! Go home!"
I turned to look at who had spoken. Everyone in the line of people I was walking past was staring at me so I could not tell.
"Build the wall!" someone shouted behind me.
I wondered where they thought I came from, where my home was. For the people gathered at Moon Township in Pennsylvania, as long as I did not look like them, I must have entered their country illegally and should have been restrained by a border wall.
It was November 2016 and these "real Americans" were queueing outside an airport hangar to see Donald Trump on his final night of campaigning before the presidential elections.
Had this been my home, I would have responded to the taunts aloud instead of in my head. Because I was a stranger in a foreign land, whose draconian border policies separate immigrant children from families, I walked in silence into the rally.
It is not often that I have to consider my identity in the course of doing my work, but I remembered what happened at the Trump rally before writing a story a few days ago.
I interviewed former president Kgalema Motlanthe during his foundation's inclusive growth conference in the Drakensberg last weekend. His observations about populism and caution about the danger of voters not properly interrogating populist rhetoric jumped out as a news angle.
But before I wrote the story, I hesitated.In the context of the flood of racial stereotyping and slurs directed at myself and other journalists who have written about the EFF's attack on National Treasury official Ismail Momoniat, would it not appear as if I was highlighting Motlanthe's words for leverage in the furore over Indian racism?
The EFF smartly dovetailed the two issues into one massive fracas, setting its community of online supporters against a loose collection of people who have challenged the party's objection to Momoniat appearing before parliament's finance committee.
Journalists, analysts, political commentators and academics of all races have been corralled into a "mob" that is apparently fighting the EFF's attempts to expose racism among South Africans of Indian origin.
To silence us, we have been made to take responsibility for the racism of other people from Mohandas Gandhi to Alochna Moodley, a woman who used the K-word in text messages to refer to fellow passengers on a flight.
The observation of former Constitutional Court justice Zak Yacoob during a lecture in March that many Indians are racist was used to batter us further.
The social media abuse includes demands that we leave the country, "go and die", and that we "deserve a bullet in the head".
EFF national chairman Dali Mpofu has written a lengthy riposte to the "mob" explaining Indian racism. But he did not respond to the origin of the controversy, which is what I wrote about: EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu's objection to Momoniat and the link to corruption allegations involving VBS Mutual Bank and the Public Investment Corporation.
There is no prescribed method to confront racism, so the EFF has every right to raise it on every available platform every time its members speak.
But because of the existence of racism among Indian people, do we refrain from raising the issue of corruption? Are our voices now invalidated by the original sin: questions about the undercurrent between the EFF and the National Treasury?As the online abuse escalated this week, I sought out in this newspaper's archive a column I wrote on January 14 2001. It was headlined "Let's face it: A large proportion of us Indians are deeply racist". It was painful reading it because I remembered the commotion it caused at the time and the blazing words of the people who took offence. It was written in the context of Thabo Mbeki, who was then president, saying that he was concerned that a significant part of the Indian population "keeps to itself". Despite Mbeki saying "We don't want anybody feeling marginalised and threatened", some Indian people felt affronted.
"Racism, anti-African sentiment and conservative ethno-centrism among Indians have perplexed the ANC leadership for some time," I wrote, also referring to the failed efforts by Nelson Mandela to woo Indian people into the ANC fold.
Under the pressure of trolling this week, I wanted to post the column on my Twitter feed. But like with the white monopoly capital social media campaign engineered by the Guptas, through their PR firm Bell Pottinger, there is no rationality involved.
I worried that my words would be appropriated, like Yacoob's have been, to deflect from what remains unanswered questions. There is also no reasonable chance that Indian racism might actually be tackled in the course of this uproar.
I come from mineworker stock and grew up in apartheid South Africa. Racial segregation defined every aspect of life and still does.
I do not need the EFF to explain that to me.
My grandfather dug for coal underneath the ground so that I might walk on top of it.
Unlike in Trump's America, in my country I will not shut up.

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