Let national interests supplant parochial ones
SOUTH AFRICANS of Indian origin urgently need a mindset shift. They do not belong to a homogenous group and should stop this nonsense about India being the motherland.
If you’re born and raised in South Africa, a descendent of those who arrived as indentured labourers on the SS Truro in 1860, and worked hard to successfully establish their roots here, you are South African, first and foremost.
Many are united in the belief that this, not the country of Modi but that of Mandela, is our motherland. It is our South Africa and it belongs to all who live in it. A mindset shift is not only for those confused about their identity from an Indian point of view but certainly from a South African one. In promoting social cohesion, by maintaining apartheid-era racial tags, the ANC has failed to promote “One South Africa, One people”. Sadly, this has left us more divided as a nation. The affiliation with India from a religious and cultural perspective is a personal choice and one that is guaranteed in the Constitution. Under apartheid and subsequent democratic governments,
South Africans with Indian roots have been permitted freedom to worship and maintain links with India as they please. And this will continue. India was the first country to support the anti-apartheid movement; by cutting ties with the Nats in 1946.
But there’s confusion about one’s sense of belonging. The allegiance of every South African should be to the flag of what Archbishop Desmond Tutu once labelled the “Rainbow Nation”. There is no debate. South Africans of Indian origin should be singing Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica – not Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem of India. It should be long live South Africa, not Jai Hind, or victory to India. Similarly, there should be support for the Proteas, not the Indian cricket team. One would be forgiven assuming that there’s a raging diplomatic row between South Africa and India over President’s Cyril Ramaphosa’s apparent failure to thank the Indian government for vaccines purchased at great expense to tackle the Covid-19 scourge.
The vaccines arrived with mild fanfare last months. Even before the stalled distribution process, Durban attorney Kirshen Naidoo was admonishing the president in a lame Gareth Cliff style-letter for failing to thank the Indian government. Ludicrously, he claims to represent peoplepeeved at the snub to India. In any event, the vaccines, for which they wanted India to be shown some love, has turned out to be a dud as it expires in April. So much for gratitude. Thanks for nothing. Thankfully, amid the hullabaloo, common sense prevailed when Neeshan Balton, a spokesperson for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, schooled the want-to-be-activist. He pointed out that it was public knowledge two weeks ago that South Africa ordered the Astra- Zeneca vaccine for R78 a dose and 1.5 million vaccines were to be shipped directly to the country from the Serum Institute of India.
Balton adds that the delivery of vaccines to South Africa from the Serum Institute is based on a commercial agreement between the South African government and pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, without a need to thank the Serum Institute or the Indian government. You would think people would get the message since it comes from the foundation of a man who spent his life in prison with Mandela.
Rohit Saran, an editor friend from India, told me: “I am surprised, maybe innocently, that this is even a debate for people who are fifth or sixth generation South Africans. And thanking Modi for a commercial import makes no sense at all.”
Alarmingly, the price paid by South Africa is almost double that paid for the same drug in Europe. Where are the voices about this perceived Indian greed? One wonders if this is a form of Gupta tax by the Indians who must think that South Africa is a cash cow pretty much like those brothers did.
But it was not over. Another rebuttal from one Narendh Ganesh, a lip-flopper B-grade politician, whose argument was akin to a yawnful social media reply calling on Balton’s acerbic response to be reconsidered and appropriately reviewed. Mr Ganesh and similar-minded people should get a life.
The reality is that more than 45 000 South Africans have lost their lives to Covid-19. The government has procured potentially life-saving vaccines at a huge cost in a bid to ensure that more lives are not lost as nobody knows when the pandemic will be reined in. There are talks about a third wave. The crisis is real.
South Africans of Indian origin are not doing themselves any favours at a time when parochial interests should be put aside in the interests of the nation. Just as well EFF leader Julius Malema had a tea date with the king of Nkandla, Jacob Zuma, who left the country’s tills wide open for the Guptas. Even shocking is the current furore enabled by spineless religious leaders over the name of the Holi Cow, a restaurant that has been operating in Fourways, Gauteng, for the past eight years.
It seems as if someone has awoken out of a slumber to angrily make a moo over the name. Animal names adorn many restaurants. It is a personal choice whether one wants to eat there or not. But infringing on the owner’s right to trade under a name that harms nobody is dangerous and could set a precedent in South Africa where empty vessel protesters without struggle credentials spring up like weed acting holier than thou. This behaviour is not new. When I worked on the Sunday Tribune (Herald) in 1993, I wrote about Nelson Mandela’s visit to India in 1993 when actress Shabana Azmi kissed him on his cheek. It disgracefully invited the wrath of the Muslim community in India – and South Africa. But, many of Indian origin, like Krishna Rabilal, one of 12 soldiers killed by the apartheid army during a raid in Matola in Mozambique 30 years ago, or Chatsworth’s Surendra “Lenny” Naidu, gunned down on June 8, 1988, in an ambush in Piet Retief, died as South African heroes.
The pseudo modern-day activists do not hold a candle to the likes of Rabilal or Naidu. Their contribution to the Struggle for democracy as equals – and not Indians – should not be cheapened by confused loyalties.
Last Thursday, the Presidency announced that Ramaphosa had a telephonic conversation with Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. Ramaphosa applauded the government
and people of India for its gift to the world in the form of vaccines and scientific
knowledge. So, what’s the fuss?
Will our president get any credit for this gesture? South Africans of Indian
origin should grow up and embrace our “Rainbow Nation” – or take the next
flight “home” for good once Covid-19 restrictions ease.
This article was published in the The Sunday Independent and The Times of India. Image from the Mumbai Mirror., Edwin Naidu is a communications professional and experienced journalist, who writes for the Wits Justice Project on justice. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Edwin_Naidu