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Kiru Naidoo: Shahan Ramkissoon vs Sihle Zikalala

Kiru Naidoo’s letter sparks debate and criticism from South Africans of Indian-origin over comments made against eNCA News journalist Shahan Ramkissoon. Naidoo describes Ramkissoon’s on-air conduct as “demeaning tinged with racism” as he laid into KwaZulu Natal premier Sihle Zikalala in a recent interview. He had further added that “People of Indian origin, in particular, are both victims and perpetrators of racism – overt, covert, conscious and criminal.”

Watch excerpts of the Shahan Ramkissoon interview here,

Read Kiru Naidoo’s letter below

My Premier,

I am sorry. I am sorry for the hurt and humiliation you have suffered. A young man who ought to know better the history and hurt of racism in our country, whether subliminal or direct, has caused you deep distress.

As I viewed over and over again the eNCA video clip, the anger mounted. I share in the gene pool in which the young man finds his origins. That makes me culpable by commission, omission and a quirk of history.

As an erstwhile teacher too, in the School of Journalism in which he trained, I feel culpable that we have collectively not done better. The majority of the graduates of that school are quality journalists who carry out their responsibilities with vigour, fearless integrity and good measures of empathy.

The young man in question has worked hard up the ladder of his organisation and I admit to having admired his command of the news. That admiration came crashing as I bristled at how arrogance can nibble away at common decency.

Every patriot is appalled at corruption. We want to see the corrupt face harsh consequences, including jail. We can ill-afford to assault those hard at work for a corruption free society. At the risk of blowing bubbles, please allow me to express my deep belief in your leadership and your strident posture in advancing good governance.

I have scant need to ingratiate myself. Too few of us speak up in affirming good leadership. Too many of us are prone to ready critique.

From the different vantage points in which I have been privileged to serve, I have quietly glowed at your incredible capacity to synthesise often divergent and conflicting positions, self-correct where necessary and move us forward together.

You do not pay lip service to unity whether in the context of party political or societal challenges like race. As in most manner of things it is inevitable that we insert ourselves into the storyline.

Almost a decade ago when you were provincial secretary of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, a comrade with whom I have frequently sat down to eat, uttered in jest “Hey Kiru, what are you doing here, shouldn’t you be in the Minority Front?”

It is not unusual for me to be in meetings or at funerals where I am the only one or among a few who share my hair texture or indentured history. In unrestrained anger, I educated the comrade about the long tradition of my family in the trade union and Congress Movement.

My grandfather swept the street outside that very office and was part of the pioneering DIMES municipal trade union led by his contemporary, the communist, RK Gounden. I thought back to the memory of my mother with a paper flag in her hair bun walking the streets of Phoenix asking her neighbours to support her political choice in our first democratic elections.

I thought back to my father in a three-piece suit in 1994 chastising his comrade Abel Moses that it was inappropriate attire to go on door-to-door campaigns in T-shirts and shorts.

While you experienced the on-screen belittling and demeaning tinged with racism, I too felt the hurt of a seemingly throw away comment. One of the compulsions in writing this apology is that unbeknown to you, you removed my hurt and anger that evening and confirmed my belief in the work that had to be done.

Under your leadership, the office lights were rarely turned off.

Meetings routinely ran after midnight and sometimes even commenced at 4am.

Seeing me as the only one in the room who looked like me, you generously accommodated my handicap in isiZulu conversation by conducting the better part of the meeting in English.

That inexcusable handicap is my own but I felt your perhaps unconscious reaching out to ensure that I did not feel left out. Afterwards, at your instance, we exchanged a few words in isiZulu.

That gesture gave me a sense of belonging that I had doubted a few hours earlier. This was originally meant to be a short note in my own hand that has evolved into a rambling treatise. I hope that the young man in question might make amends of his own volition rather than being compelled by his editors.

I do hope that he will realise that we are a deeply wounded country. Twenty-six years of freedom and democracy has not removed the fault lines of 300 years of institutionalised racism. People of Indian origin in particular are both victims and perpetrators of racism – overt, covert, conscious and criminal.

I am sorry for your pain. The time for an honest dialogue about race is overdue.

Kiru Naidoo is the author of ‘Made In Chatsworth’ and a public servant within the Provincial Government of KwaZulu-Natal. Last week Friday, KwaZulu Natal premier Sihle Zikalala describes the conduct of Shahan Ramkissoon as one that “disrespected” and “belittled” him in an interview earlier this month, tap here to read more

Disclaimer: The views & comments expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Indian Spice.

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