I am convinced...that if we give [Indians] the choice, you’ll be able to lead this country and no other community will be able to obscure you.
The more I see [Rajbansi] and listen to him, the more he looks and sounds like South Africa’s new Indian Andries Treurnicht (late leader of the Conservative Party). Somebody please go and wake [him] up...and tell him this is the new South Africa. We are one nation and [he] must stop playing the ethnic guitar. All Indians are South Africans like me, there is no place for ethnic politics.
FW de Klerk, 29/6/96.
We were the first to expose the fact that affirmative action is hurting Indians, Coloureds and whites...vote [for] the real home for all minorities...vote the Minority Front.
We are pleased to single out [Indians] because our president Mr Mangosuthu Buthelezi has had a long association with Indians. Now is the time to cement and deepen that relationship. We are not being opportunistic and this is not propaganda to catch votes. We believe that Zulus and Indians are not only the dominant cultural groups in KwaZulu, but we also have a lot in common. In both communities we take our work, religion and culture seriously.
The unbanning ofresistance organisations in February 1990 opened up a new era in South African politics. The reform process forced upon the state by a combination of internal and external pressures changed the face of resistance politics and found most anti-apartheid organisations ill-prepared to deal with its implications. The new context challenged existing political cultures across the ideological spectrum. The NIC, which had been a legal component of the Congress Alliance since the 1960s, and had acted as an ANC voice, no longer occupied a unique position. The uncertainty of the transition meant that organisations such as AZAPO, NIC, UDF and the legal ANC would have to evolve flexible strategies to cope with the political changes. The National Party (NP) might have been pressurised into fundamental reform but it was able to set the initial broad terms and pace of the transition, and develop strategies to undermine its political opponents. It was also largely able to decide the timing of crucial political and constitutional events. While the liberation movements began the project of transforming themselves into political parties, the NP held on to state power, and financial, ideological, institutional and material resources. The context was set for political fluidity, as exiles returned, prisoners were released and new organisational challenges presented themselves.
The period under examination represents an important intellectual moment in progressive scholarship in South Africa. Previously political activists and academics were reluctant to discuss ethnicity as it was seen as legitimising and giving credence to apartheid. However, by the late 1980s this position was strongly challenged. As discussed in chapter one, a concerted effort was made to understand the implications of South Africa’s ethnic heterogeneity and its relation to political resistance. This thesis and my earlier work have already documented attempts by some activists to prosecute resistance during the 1980s with sensitivity to class, ethnic, gender and religious differentiation. However, the NIC’s interventions had failed to creatively deal with ethnicity and class, despite its focus on mobilising Indians. It therefore entered the 1990s with little support among working-class Indians and without an effective organisational structure.
The results of the April 1994 national elections and the June 1996 local government elections in Durban constitute an important part of this chapter. The elections provided a measurement of Indian identification with the ANC. This chapter confirms that the gradual but strengthening shift in the structural context during this period deterred popular alignment with the ANC and its allies. The task of winning Indian support for the non-racial project of the ANC was in conflict with the structural location of the majority of Indians who in 1994 were still politically introverted, inactive and ambivalent. The disintegrating apartheid state exercised considerable power during the transition, and it is within this context that I critique the organisational effectiveness of the ANC and NIC. In addition, the establishment of ANC branches in Indian areas and the performance of the ANC in government is analysed.
Durban in the 1990s
Indians across the class divide, when compared to other South Africans, were more anxious about the uncertainties of transition. Despite the reduction in repression, Indians continued to shy away from politics as those Indians in public life had a bad image. Chapter seven detailed the conflict within and between the NIC and the UDF. In addition, the HoD attracted constant ridicule. Contempt for the HoD was evident in community theatre, informal public discussions at social occasions, and in placards displayed during demonstrations.
The NP’s strategy to alienate Indians from the rest of the oppressed had largely succeeded. As a journalist from India noted:
An air of confusion grips many Indian South Africans who believe that life under a black majority government will be no better or far worse than under the present racist regime. A lot of the uncertainty within the Indian community appears to have been contrived by the white minority regime and its allies in an attempt to continue to hang on to power in a post-apartheid society.
Earlier chapters show that the NP had failed to win Indian support for its reforms. However, the party’s survival now depended on securing support from Indians in KwaZulu-Natal and Coloureds in the Western Cape. The NP, like other ANC opponents, emphasised concerns around security, which were shared by Indians across the class-divide.
Fears of racial conflict were reinforced by a series of incidents early in 1990. At the busiest commuter interchange used by blacks in central Durban, several Indian women’s traditional wedding necklaces were ripped off and two Indian men were stabbed to death in what was interpreted to be racial attacks. Tensions were fuelled by an anonymous pamphlet accusing Indians of taking over jobs from Africans. The ANC-alliance accused government agents of stirring these conflicts. However, one UDF official conceded that in addition to the complicity by the state, “political ignorance among some elements within our comrades should be held responsible for the carnage.” SouthScan observed that the involvement of avowed COSATU members in these conflicts reflected long-standing tensions between Africans and Indians in the workplace.
ANC claims of government instigation were accepted by sections of the Indian middle-class. The impact on popular consciousness was devastating: “In the buses, trains, shopping centres, and temples, it was stated that Mandela’s release has given African people confidence and therefore they were doing this.” This was so, even though the ANC, COSATU and their allies patrolled the affected area and the incidents soon stopped. However, the ANC-alliance was often unable to react in this proactive and immediate manner as its organisational strength was weak and the gap between activists and their constituency was vast. These events easily evoked flashbacks to the 1949 and Inanda riots which remained present in the popular psyche, of most Indians. The fact that violence had escalated nationally soon after Mandela’s release and had mainly affected African people, was ignored.
In his first KwaZulu-Natal address, Mandela made peace and unity his central themes. He drew out four strands of Natal resistance history: Zulu and Indian resistance, white opposition to apartheid, and worker struggles. Keen to stress the need for greater societal and organisational coherence among ANC supporters, he glossed over structural and subjective contradictions and declared that:
Our struggle has won the participation of every language and colour, every stripe and hue in this country. These four strands of resistance and organisation have inspired all South Africans, and provide the foundations of our struggle today.
Mandela told the mainly African crowd at the rally of the “long and proud tradition of co-operation between Africans and Indians against racial discrimination”; and how the “common nature of Indian and African oppression” made united resistance necessary from 1947. He said the ANC was “extremely disturbed by recent acts of violence against our Indian compatriots. The perpetrators of these acts are enemies of the liberation movement.” Most Indians did not hear his reference to them, nor the concerns he articulated and the assurance he was trying to provide. A few Indian newspapers reported this but the message did not penetrate the Indian populace.
The NP readily linked the escalating political violence to Mandela’s release. The euphoria that accompanied the legalisation of the ANC declined to a subdued confusion, and the fear of violence became the dominant concern of most South Africans. Media coverage of violence in Black areas increased substantially from February 1990. The SABC, which remained firmly under government control until late 1993, either stated directly, or implied that the ANC was responsible. Evidence has now emerged to show that elements close to the NP government used violence as part of an overall political strategy to undermine the ANC. Amidst allegations of the existence of a state-sponsored “third force”, the following observation was made:
A reign of terror was unleashed by the government and its Inkatha supporters, leaving more than a thousand dead, displacing thousands more and seriously affecting the morale and confidence of most people in the Indian community...a large percentage of Indians are better off than their African counterparts and as a distinct and highly visible minority, many...Indians have a real fear of violence. They believe that...in [a] post-apartheid South Africa they will be the first targets of uneducated and deprived mobs...acts of violence by blacks against the Indian community have sown seeds of fear among many Indians about the future under a black majority government.
A significant section of Indians began to see themselves as victims of the transitional process rather than as active participants and beneficiaries. Freund observed at the time that:
Indians remain frightened by Africans, who are poorer and have claims on resources that might threaten and endanger their own gains. To what extent an ideology of “non-racialism” will bring people to redefine their identity in other than racial terms, the future...of ethnicity in a “new South Africa”, is quite uncertain.
In the period after the legalisation of political organisations, there was widespread speculation, backed by a range of opinion polls, that fear would lead substantial numbers of Indians and Coloureds to vote for the NP.
In the run up to the election, urban legends recounting fantastic tales of plots by maids and gardeners to take over their employers’ homes once “freedom” was attained were indiscriminately related. The ANC was unable to counteract these rumours, especially since in Cato Manor months before the election, African squatters “invaded” new houses earmarked for Indians who had been on the council’s waiting list for years. Nobody claimed responsibility for organising the protest, but nor was the action condemned by the ANC until much later. Although Mandela visited the area and tried to placate fears, the impact on popular perceptions remained negative. The Mandela visit did not attract much media attention, neither was it given much prominence, as it seemed that the ANC did not want to appear too soft on Indians in a province where the IFP was a serious electoral threat. The Cato Manor homes had been vacant for eight months due to an administrative bungle and Indians perceived the “invasion” as a denial of housing to them. The fact that people also felt threatened by the mushrooming shack settlements nearby rendered the situation ripe for ethnic manipulation. Memories of the 1949 and 1985 Inanda riots and the attacks in Warwick Avenue in 1990 fuelled Indian anxiety, and probably contributed to a drop in support for the ANC.
However, a survey, entitled Negotiations and Change: An Opinion Poll of 3275 South Africans, July 1990, suggested that the outcome of the Indian and ‘Coloured’ vote was not a foregone conclusion. It found that more than three quarters of Indians, Africans, whites and Coloureds favoured negotiations to bring about change. Armed struggle was favoured by about 5% of Indians as compared to 16% of Africans. Only one in ten Indians felt that parliament could be used to facilitate change. The ANC was the most favoured party (35%) followed by the NP (24.5%), the NIC (11.3%), the DP (8.9%), COSATU (3.8%) and the UDF (2.4%). Only two percentage points separated De Klerk, who led Mandela as choice for Prime Minister. Despite concerns over violence, the majority of Indians were optimistic about the transition. The survey concluded that:
All three disenfranchised race groups are closer to each other in their attitudes to capitalism, socialism and a mixed economy; they support the ANC and want a new constitution on the basis of universal adult franchise, and a single parliament in a unitary state. There is a general rejection of minority rights. However, Indians and Coloureds are closer to whites than Africans on the issues of the armed struggle, total nationalisation and the participation of workers in companies. Until racism is destroyed, a long and difficult process in the South African climate, it may well be that as the African muscle strengthens, so the three minority race groups may come closer together.
The survey suggested that Indians were not homogenous and while many were keen to eschew politics directly, they were open political game. As a result, Indians as a constituency attracted the enthusiastic attention of all the major political parties.
The establishment of ANC branches
Forming ANC branches throughout the country was a challenging and difficult process. For the first time, membership cards were issued and people were required to pay a fee of R12 a year. Patrick Terror Lekota, the convenor of the Southern Natal Regional Interim Leadership Committee (RILC), appointed only one Indian, Billy Nair, to the RILC. Nair was closely aligned to the cabal, but when choosing the other 14 members of the RILC, Lekota avoided people associated with the cabal and the NIC. This circumspection and under-representation of Indians was seen as a rebuff to the NIC.
Middle-class Indians, few of whom had been involved in the struggle, dominated the formation of ANC branches, even in the predominantly working-class townships of Phoenix and Chatsworth. This was common across the racial divide and was the source of resentment and disillusionment as many activists felt that too many professionals were elected to branch executives despite their having been “Olympic-level fence-sitters during the days of struggle.” This policy of broadening the “peoples’ camp” meant that almost anyone was welcomed, irrespective of their past and any undercurrents surrounding some of these “2nd February 1990 converts”. Working-class Indians were under-represented on branch executives and in the general membership of the ANC. Younger leaders were well represented on the branch executives as many ANC supporters were associated with youth organisations or were politicised as students.
The enthusiastic participation of an estimated 5% of Indians in the formation of ANC branches in Durban was seen as significant support for the organisation. It was observed that Indians, like their [African] and Coloured counterparts rejoiced, and many rushed to join the ANC. Branches of the ANC began to spring up in Indian localities and townships all over the country. This flood of support for the ANC shocked the white minority regime and its allies, particularly the [IFP], who realised that if this went unchecked they would be swept aside in the event of free democratic elections [particularly in KwaZulu Natal].
However, the conflict over the role of the NIC in the formation of ANC branches was the source of much confusion both amongst activists and the general public.
In Chatsworth, there was disagreement over whether or not to form one or several branches. In this area the debate showed how deeply the conflicts around cabalism and control of the political process had permeated Indian left politics. It also reflected how ethnicity had become an issue. For instance, those who favoured a single branch described Chatsworth “as a single geopolitical unit”. Their opponents maintained that such an assertion was a euphemism for saying that Chatsworth was an Indian area which should focus narrowly on Indian concerns. The thrust of the argument of those wanting several branches was that there would be greater expansion of the political life of township residents, and participation in the ANC would increase. They argued that outlying parts of Chatsworth could go into partnership with neighbouring African areas when forming branches, and that a single branch would create only nine Chatsworth ANC leaders while five branches would create forty-five. Those mooting one branch said there were not enough skilled people to run several branches and that they would not be organisationally viable. Chatsworth activists eventually opted for five branches to serve its 350,000 residents while Phoenix with 400,000 people chose one branch. These branches were part of the ANC’s first regional conference in 1991, when four Indians were elected to serve on the Regional Executive Committee, with only one having a direct association with a working-class area. Significantly, two NIC/ANC stalwarts, Billy Nair and Pravin Gordhan, were defeated, presumably because of their cabal associations.
In addition the state-controlled SABC radio and television were also able to negatively influence Indian perception of the ANC. Although there was a low level of politicisation among Indians, there was a high degree of literacy. However, the SABC’s Radio Lotus had a greater penetration than the ethnic editions of major Sunday newspapers and other Indian weeklies, which readily supported the ANC and its newly-returned exiles. As violence escalated around the country, the NP government was able, through the SABC news, to depict a society riven apart by ANC-inspired violence. The SABC, without blatantly spelling out ethnicity, constantly reiterated the insecurities of minorities by portraying the ANC as an exclusively African organisation. Although Indian ANC activists had good media skills and through pamphlets, posters and roadside banners tried to counter the state propaganda, they were not effective. The organisation also relied on the positive images of leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Mac Maharaj to help influence the Indian public. However, the continued disjointed media coverage did not help in the debates around the relationship between the NIC and ANC.
Statements by the NIC that it would dissolve once the ANC was legalised, as the movement’s strategy was not to organise along ethnic lines, were accepted as conventional wisdom by most progressives and some of the newspapers. The debate was complicated since, despite the Congress alliance’s commitment to non-racialism, Indians were starting to see themselves as a separate group that could come under attack as violence increased. While there was significant support for disbandment, one school of thought asserted that the NIC was necessary to encourage Indian participation in politics and to promote the ANC’s political agenda. The argument in support of retaining the NIC was that it could play a pro-ANC role during multi-party negotiations and thus off-set the conservative Indian parties’ alliance with the NP. However, some contended that those who wanted the continuance of the NIC were mainly hoping to use it as a spring-board to higher political office. It was also argued by others that those in the NIC who were against disbanding, were afraid of being sidelined by Africanists within the trade union movement and the ANC in Natal. A number of Indian ANC members who saw themselves as “ANC comrades” and not “Indian comrades” disagreed with the NIC/TIC position which promoted the idea of a group identity which was contrary to the ANC policy of non-racialism. However Ahmed Kathrada pointed out that it [was] useless to shout non-racialism when the ANC had not succeeded in reaching out to other (racial) groups.
The raging debate around disbandment was eventually resolved when, at a meeting chaired by ANC deputy president Walter Sisulu, it was decided that the NIC and TIC would continue to exist. The discussions were wide-ranging and took into consideration the insecurities of Indians as an ethnic minority. A statement issued after the meeting revealed the contradictions and tensions around the desire to build a non-racial ANC while trying to gauge whether the NIC was the better organisation to mobilise Indians. The ‘consensus’ at the meeting declared that the ANC is the primary organ to mobilise the Indian community as an integral part of the South African people and that the strengthening of the ANC within the Indian community is among our common, vital tasks. At the same-time, and for the present, there is a continuing role for the TIC and NIC in the Congress tradition, to help bring about unity in action between the Indian community as a whole and the ANC-centred national liberation movement.
Rajbansi pointed out that “if the NIC and TIC are to organise Indians into the ANC, does this mean that the ANC is accepting group representation within its own ranks.” Ismail Omar, of Solidarity stated that the decision of the NIC:
to act as a conduit in the Indian Community to gather support for the ANC amounts to a total vote of no-confidence in the ability of Africans in the ANC being able to gather Indian support. This…tarnishes the Indian community as being racial. In adopting this line, it would appear as if the NIC has taken over policies it attacked in the past. For the NIC to say that Indians had to be organised as Indians and that a link had to be found between ethnicity and nation building makes even Solidarity blush.
One ANC member who did not want to be named argued that the NIC “is doing nothing more than accept the basis under which the tricameral government was formed - that of separate race groups to be represented separately”.
It should be noted that despite its commitment to non-racialism, the ANC, and before that the UDF, were largely comfortable with allies who concentrated on organising along racial lines. Unlike AZAPO and the PAC, it did not define or propagate unity among Indian, African and Coloured people on the basis of being black, neither was patriotism equated with a total identification with being a South African. Debates around identity and racial definition were prominent since the Africanists split from the ANC to form the PAC in 1959 and continued beyond the rise and decline of the Black Consciousness Movement. The government and its supporters referred only to Africans as black in order to stress the differences from Coloureds and Indians. But in the 1970s and 1980s, progressives increasingly used ‘black’ to refer to anyone who was not white. During the debate around the NIC’s future, some of its leaders and activists reverted to the apartheid definitions. While it was argued that this was how the majority of Indians and Coloureds saw themselves, and that it was therefore appropriate to use such terms, it must be remembered that during the repressive 1980s NIC leaders used black as an inclusive term. Mandela and some ANC leaders still refer to “all blacks, including Indians, Africans and Coloureds”. However, it can be argued that the ANC was not strategic in its handling of ethnicity. Instead of encouraging black people to see themselves as an amalgamation of diverse and culturally rich groups, sensitivities around ethnicity led to the different races retreating into their own laagers.
Campaigning for the April 1994 national elections
The first democratic elections were held after four years of transition and intense negotiations. It was inevitable that elections for a new government would be the result of the talks at CODESA, and the ANC tried to prepare for this from as early as 1991, which was declared the year of “mass action for the transfer of power to the people”. The year 1992 was declared the year “of democratic elections for a constituent assembly”. While some hoped that elections would occur soon after CODESA began, the vagaries of the negotiations process dictated otherwise. The ANC’s patriotic front walked out of the talks after the June 1992 Boipatong massacre. However, it was the uncertainty following Chris Hani’s assassination, that made urgent the setting of an election date. Racial violence and polarisation led to a fear that the country was on the brink of disaster. However, Nelson Mandela emerged as the unifier and leader of the country, calling for calm in an address on April 10, 1993 to the nation on prime time television, while De Klerk’s government was relegated to the shadows.
ANC electioneering took place against this background of increasing violence, right-wing threats of mass destruction and latent feelings of hopelessness amongst many South Africans. The only certainty the ANC enjoyed was the majority support of Africans. Almost all the polls at the time showed that the ANC would have difficulties in capturing the support of Indians, Coloureds and whites. Eighty percent of Indians named the NP as their first, second or third choice. The ANC’s sophisticated campaign failed to work on obvious weaknesses - such as its lack of support among Indians. The ANC’s mistake was that it failed to take into account the specific insecurities Indians felt as a minority. At best, messages in pamphlets tried to reassure Indians that all would be well under the ANC, but the media and politicians opposed to the ANC painted a confusing picture for the electorate. ANC MP Pregs Govender asserted: “Many Indians, by the time of the elections were unable to distinguish between the ANC and the IFP”. This was largely because the media began to apportion almost equal blame for the violence on both parties.
Paradoxically, collaborationists such as Rajbansi maintained a high profile. Despite limited support among Indians in the 1980s, when he was declared unfit to hold office, and a rapid decline in his relationship with the NP, he refined his ethnic approach and stayed the course. After he failed to secure an alliance with the ANC, inviting stringent protests from Indian activists about such a deal, he formed the Minority Front (MF) which focused narrowly on Indian interests. Rajbansi conveyed three simple messages: he understood and appreciated Indians’ concerns and was willing to represent those interests; he was able to speak on behalf of and make known the demands of Indians as an interest group; and finally that ethnicity was a central force in national politics. While it was not possible for the ANC to advance Rajbansi’s narrow Indian ethnocentrism, it is possible that the ANC’s electoral perfomance might have been better if there was greater sensitivity towards Indian concerns.
By appropriating Indian cultural and ethnic symbols, Rajbansi was able to carve a political niche for himself. He criticised the NP for not including Indian religions in the new constitution; sought restitution for victims of the Group Areas Act; promoted cultural ties with India; declared that curry was a vital negotiating instrument; and sought to assure Indian South Africans of their safety under an African-dominated government if he represented them. He became the sole representative of his party in the HoD when the rest of his members defected to the NP in the run-up to the elections. To calls that he be expelled from the multi-party talks, he retorted:
For the benefit of the writer who belongs to a small clique that has failed to deliver the Indian community to liberation as promised, and to others, I say that the Bengal Tiger’s real political career has just commenced.
His campaign consisted of modest newspaper advertisements and several public meetings for supporters. While he believed that he was the head of a political movement and aspired for national and regional seats, Singh pointed out that the MF was “in constitution, in goals and in rhetoric...the realisation of one man’s conceptualisation of what an Indian minority party should represent”. Nevertheless, the MF’s win of a single critical seat was an indicator of an ethnic strand amongst Indians as it was the only party with an exclusively pro-Indian agenda.
Meanwhile, the ANC had alienated some of its members and the NIC by initially including JN Reddy, the former HoD leader and another of his colleagues on its list of candidates. The move indicated the fissure between the ANC’s national leadership, who approved of Reddy’s inclusion, and its regional membership, who saw Reddy as a political foe. It also reflected the organisation’s concern about the conservatism of Indians and the need to be uniform in dealing with those who had collaborated with apartheid. Several African homeland leaders had been incorporated onto the ANC lists. By embracing Reddy as a candidate, the ANC conceded that the collaborationists could possibly deliver more Indian votes than its own members. Reddy was placed at number 256 on the list which meant that he would have to work hard to deliver the Indian vote to secure his election as an ANC MP, and then only if the organisation won 64% of the total vote. The lack of confidence in ANC branches and the NIC was not helped by its weak campaign in many Indian areas. However, in several areas, including Chatsworth, the ANC branches ran highly efficient and thorough election campaigns, though as one activist put it, “all the organisation in the world could not dislodge an anti-ANC consciousness that has been constructed by the state over the last fifty years”.
After the elections, the results from each polling station were not made available so as to avoid identifying how communities voted and to prevent retaliation by losing parties. Instead, the results were given as district and provincial totals, making analysis of class or residential voting patterns difficult. Assumptions about how different classes or residential areas voted depended on “extrapolation from polls, and from the opinion of informed and anonymous individuals involved in the election process.” Nationally, it was estimated that the ANC gained 150,000 Indian votes (constituting 1.5% of the ANC’s national vote - See Table 8.1) and the NP gained 300,000 votes (constituting 7% of the NP’s national vote). The NP, which received approximately one-tenth of the KwaZulu-Natal vote, now depends on its provincial Indian supporters in Chatsworth, and Phoenix. Herman Giliomee observed that in KwaZulu-Natal only six out of the NP’s top twenty candidates for the National Assembly were from the “strategically important Indian community, of which more than half backed the NP.”
Most surprising was the performance of Rajbansi’s MF, which, against all predictions, captured 48,951 votes (1.3% of the KwaZulu Natal tally - See Table 8.2) and secured for himself a place in the Provincial legislature. Rajbansi was the best known Indian figure on the ballot form, and would have attracted all those who simply wanted to vote for an Indian. The most likely reason for people voting MF was the frustration at feeling excluded from the political process. While Indian identity was of importance, it was less of a factor than this feeling of marginalisation.
Class and education influenced the estimated 25% Indian vote secured by the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. Freund notes that the ANC votes came disproportionately from younger, more educated middle-class Indians. In Chatsworth, the ANC secured almost 23% on the provincial ballot and almost 26% in the national ballot. The ANC also estimated that they received greater support in the Transvaal and from Indians outside of KwaZulu-Natal. This was influenced by the distance from the intra-Zulu violence in KwaZulu-Natal and the middle-class profile of these voters. The IFP gained support from the Indian middle-class and bourgeoisie on the North Coast and some parts of the South Coast. In Durban, the IFP got less than 4% of the Indian vote. The ANC lost votes to the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal partly because of its own disorganisation and the “fear of continuing civil conflict may have prompted many voters to interpret an Inkatha vote as a vote for appeasement and peace”.
How do we explain the Indian vote? The NIC’s Farouk Meer suggests that fear, racial prejudice and the ANC’s poor organisation among Indians were to be blamed. The high crime rate and violence in the province also contributed to Indian insecurities. The NP played the race card in its electioneering and, by doing so, succeeded in winning Indian support. It reminded Indians of dictatorships elsewhere in Africa and their backlash against Indians. Moreover, Meer concedes that Indian leaders and activists were disillusioned and did not play the role they played in 1984...this disillusionment had its roots in the conflicts around an alleged cabal within the NIC which had inordinate influence over politics in Natal and this is the final factor in the tensions that had developed between the NIC and the ANC.
Tensions between the ANC and the NIC were surprising as the NIC had been a key ANC supporter. Meer claims that the national ANC leadership understood the NIC’s position and appreciated their work but that President Mandela “chastised us for not doing enough as the NIC”.
Conflict between a hegemonic group in the NIC and members of the MDM, COSATU and the ANC had persisted since the late 1980s. Meer asserts that this alienation had its roots in the feeling that certain NIC leaders had somehow hijacked the political process in Natal and were calling the political shots….Through Kagiso [a funding agency], it was said, we were influencing civic structures ...together with this came the whole question of the cabal......a perception that there was this shadowy group that was in fact controlling political events [in Natal] ....Potential African leaders felt that they were being stifled by the overwhelming presence of the NIC.....This led to the marginalisation of key personnel in the NIC itself when it came to the elections and also when it came to nominating people on to the lists for parliament.
Meer defended the NIC’s mode of operation before the ANC’s legalisation, arguing that repression forced them to work within a very close network but that they always had clear goals of working towards the national democratic struggle. He conceded that they “did exclude people...but this was done inadvertently, not by specific design”.
Historically, sport had played a vital role in building a sense of community among working-class Indians. A founder member of the Chatsworth Football Association and the Chatsworth Cricket Association explained:
When people moved to Chatsworth we first formed civics and sports organisations. Religious organisation came much later and with it came division amongst religious groups. There was a conscious decision to focus on sport since this cut through religious differences and helped to unite the people who had come from a range of different backgrounds.
To their detriment, the ANC neglected the sports, religious and cultural sectors in their election campaign just as the NIC had done in earlier campaigns. The ANC failed to build on the progressive sports tradition of the South African Council on Sport (SACOS).
The ANC was also unable to harness the support from a plethora of religious and cultural organisations which had varying degrees of influence amongst Indians. While individuals from these organisations gave the ANC their vote, it was unable to get them to lobby on its behalf. Ultimately, Rajbansi and, to a lesser extent, the NP made inroads into these groups. In the past, Rajbansi had also secured support by lobbying around such issues as the immigration of Indian brides, and the legalisation of fireworks, which was of significance for Hindu festivals. As for the NP, most of its candidates were once members of the parties that participated in the HoD, and this support appeared to hold. The NIC’s problem was that, with a few exceptions, most of their progressive supporters had become distanced from religious and cultural organisations. Activists also believed that the militant rhetoric of the ANC’s Peter Mokaba, Winnie Mandela and Harry Gwala cost them some middle-class support. These leaders had popular support amongst the African underclass but limited support amongst Indians.
The ANC needed to win the KwaZulu-Natal Indian vote in order to influence the provincial politics while the NP needed Indian votes to secure their national seats. While the NP won a large number of Indian votes, their influence in the KwaZulu Natal legislature continues to be limited. Even Rajbansi’s MF, which won fewer votes, is more influential. Provincial politics is dominated by the IFP and ANC. This is a likely reason why the NP adopted desperate electioneering tactics. Overtly, and especially to African people, they presented themselves as a new party, but when trying to win Indian and ‘Coloured’ support, they propagated a fear of Africans. Another ploy of the NP was to depict the ANC as hard-line Communists who would restrict freedom of religion. While there was a SACP branch in Chatsworth, it had a low profile and cannot claim to have had popular support. Despite Communists holding key positions in the Congress and union movements, the Indian working-class did not gravitate towards the Communist Party as it had done in the 1940s and 1950s. There was the perception that the party was fighting “more for the Africans than the Indians”.
During campaigning for the 1994 election in Bayview, Chatsworth residents who had been visited three times, assured fieldworkers of their vote. However, on election day, despite organisational support from the ANC, at least half did not vote for the ANC. Clearly, residents had lied to ANC campaigners, assuring them of their vote as momentary appeasement. It is likely that the residents who lied did so out of an irrational fear. They were also “playing it safe” so that if the ANC won in the district, they would be able to say that they had contributed to the victory. What appears to be common across the class divide is that significant numbers of Indians, like most other South Africans, have eschewed direct political involvement. At most they voted because the election was seen as an historical moment and one way of confirming their South Africanness. An estimated 85% of Indians voted in the general elections, most of whom voted for the NP. After the elections, the debate on disbanding the NIC continued. Some still felt that the organisation had an important role to play in persuading Indians to vote for the ANC in the local government elections.
The ANC in Government A breakdown of national parliamentary representation by race shows that Indians, who make up 3% of the population, have 16% representation in Parliament. Among the 40 Indian parliamentarians from all the parties, there is no MP from Chatsworth or Phoenix, where almost two-thirds of the Indian population live. Whites are also “over-represented” having 27% of MPs, while constituting 15% of the electorate. Africans, who constitute 73% of the population, have just over 50% of MPs. (See Table 8.3) By October 1996, five ANC cabinet posts were held by Indians: Mac Maharaj (transport), Jay Naidoo (initially RDP and later posts and telecommunications), Dullah Omar (Justice and Intelligence), Kader Asmal (Water Affairs and Forestry) and Mohamed Valli Moosa (constitutional development and local government). The deputy foreign affairs minister is Aziz Pahad and President Mandela’s advisor is Ahmed Kathrada. Essop Pahad is the Deputy Minister in Deputy President Thabo Mbeki’s office.
Reynolds attributes the prominence of Indians in the cabinet and ANC leadership to the “historical role played by Mahatma Gandhi, Yusuf Dadoo and the Indian Congresses in opposition to apartheid and colonialism”. However, it is unlikely that the prominence of Indians is a result of the direct contribution of the NIC. Prior to the election, a moribund NIC was largely alienated and had resorted to simply issuing press statements. It is significant that none of the Cabinet Ministers have been directly involved with Indian organisations in Durban over the last decade and a half. Jay Naidoo, however, had been briefly involved in civic work in Chatsworth in the early 1980s. Despite over-representation in the National Assembly, only five Indian ANC MPs were elected from KwaZulu-Natal in April 1994. They are: Billy Nair (La Mercy), Pravin Gordhan (Overport), Mewa Ramgobin (Verulam), Ela Gandhi (Central Durban) and Yunus Carrim (Pietermaritzburg). In the provincial assembly, the ANC has only two Indians: Ismail Meer (Sydenham) and Yusuf Bhamjee (Pietermaritzburg). There is no Indian MP in the 10-person provincial cabinet. Rajbansi is the only Chatsworth-based MP and Ramesh Romalal of the IFP is the only Phoenix MP. The lack of representation from Chatsworth and Phoenix has contributed to the alienation of the Indian working-class from the ANC and the political process.
While Indians involved in the anti-apartheid struggle may have been formidable cadres and continue to be prominent in post-apartheid politics, they are out of touch with the average Indian voter. This disjuncture is potentially a weapon for those wanting to challenge the ANC on representativeness in the run-up to the 1999 election. For example, other groups, whether white, African or Coloured, can question the disproportionate influence that Indians have in the organisation. They would have to bear in mind though, that many of the Indian ANC parliamentarians, particularly former exiles and Robben Islanders, see themselves as black South Africans of Indian origin rather than as simply Indians. Their rise in ANC ranks happened through several routes: for example, Jay Naidoo had been General Secretary of COSATU, a non-racial sectoral organisation; Mac Maharaj and Aziz Pahad had distinguished themselves in the ANC’s exiled leadership; Mohamed Valli Moosa and Pravin Gordhan were powerful leaders in the Mass Democratic Movement; Ahmed Kathrada had spent more than 25 years on Robben Island; and then there were activist intellectuals who were aligned to the struggle either internally, like Dullah Omar, or externally, like Prof. Kader Asmal.
The ANC is likely to use an MP’s performance rather than race as the primary criteria to measure the value of a member. Some may argue that the prominence of Indians’ is proof that the ANC’s commitment to non-racialism has worked. Mac Maharaj reflected this thinking when he declared that:
The only thing I have in common with Indians is that I share a mutual love of curry and rice. I am [as] non-racial as they come or supposedly come, but don’t call me Indian.
This prompted the UK-based Asian Times to observe that:
Indians in the ANC are so sensitive to the real or imagined resentments of Africans that they have gone out of their way to divorce themselves from even the most innocuous cultural associations with their people, sometimes even making fools of themselves in the process.
Nevertheless, the ANC is quick to trot out its Indian parliamentarians to gain favour from the populace, overlooking the fact that most of them do not have a social base amongst ordinary Indian voters. This is because there is a physical, ideological and cultural distance between these leaders and the Indian working-class.
The fact that Indian ANC leaders do not have popular support amongst Indians, is also ignored by President Mandela. When addressing a group of about 300 “Indians of influence”, the President chose to highlight “how well represented the Indian community is within government”. Mandela described his old friend Ahmed Kathrada as his most trusted political advisor, and stated that he did not appoint him to the cabinet because he trusted his judgement the most, and therefore wanted him by his side. Mac Maharaj was lauded as one of the most talented politicians and someone with whom the President never debated for fear of losing the argument. Mandela also reiterated that he had proposed Minister of Water Affairs, Kader Asmal, as a replacement for the late Oliver Tambo as chairperson of the ANC, but had been defeated when Thabo Mbeki was elected to the position.
Many South African Indians were concerned about affirmative action and the process of policy implementation. Despite repeated ANC statements that affirmative action would include redress for all black people, private sector employers appeared to favour Africans over Indians and Coloureds, causing much consternation. There was a perception amongst Indians of being sandwiched between Africans and whites. On the one hand, Indians see the ANC government as “cosying up to whites, who many believe, are not running only the economy, but also controlling vital ministries”. On the other hand is the issue of affirmative action. Senzo Mchunu, provincial secretary of the ANC claimed that “corporate companies and industries were exploiting affirmative action to a point of turning Indians and Coloureds against the ANC”. Affirmative action has been abused by the private sector.
In September 1995 the situation became explosive as tension erupted between Indian and African people at UDW “over jobs, power, the future of the university and the cultural survival of a previously oppressed and now possibly threatened Indian minority. The progressive staff, which is still 95% Indian, realise that their composition has to change, but nevertheless feel threatened, and so the term “affirmative action” has become a contentious one”.
The civil service is slightly more complex. In the past, Indians were beneficiaries of a distorted form of affirmative action under policies designed to co-opt Indians. (See Tables 8.4, 8.5 and 8.6) The growth in the number of Indian civil servants is one indicator of how the apartheid government tried to win Indians over. During the transition, the status and position of the middle-classes were and are expected to stay the same. For example, teachers’ salaries will not be raised substantially and discrimination has been addressed. There is expected to be less motivation for teachers to improve their qualifications as salary increases are no longer an incentive. Projects to narrow the gap between teachers will be held and those with lesser qualifications, mainly African teachers, will be encouraged to study further. The position of those who are well paid is likely to remain the same and even the possession of two or more degrees is unlikely to result in substantially higher pay. Given this, it was inevitable that there would be insecurity over the new government’s policy as African people, who have been most marginalised, would be given preference in the civil service.
The Indian civil servants, like their counterparts elsewhere, are likely to support the party in power, and therefore in KwaZulu-Natal they appear to align themselves with the IFP. Educational administrators and some senior teachers are also moving towards the IFP, as education is under provincial control. Generally however, Indians remain perturbed by the escalating violence, armed robberies, and the insensitivity of the IFP controlled education and culture department to their religion and religious holidays. The working-class finds itself without clear leadership and is experiencing a high level of dislocation. There is concern about whether affirmative action will continue to keep those who are out of work unemployed, and whether those who are employed will lose jobs. Affirmative action is also apparent in student admissions to tertiary institutions. In the past, working-class students with good passes were assured of places at Indian tertiary institutions such as UDW, whereas now there are more African students on these campuses. The Indian middle-class prefers, and can afford, to send their children to former white institutions or even overseas to study. This uncertainty around affirmative action is part of a broader fear of exclusion that many Indians experience. Politically, these insecurities have been skilfully manipulated by the NP and the MF.
When local government elections were held nationally in November 1995, it appeared that the major political parties in KwaZulu-Natal could have won more support from the Indian working-class voters if greater efforts had been made to persuade them to vote. (See Table 8.7) Although many people were cautious about being identified with a political party, fear of involvement in politics had by then lessened. The ANC took advantage of Mandela’s stature when trying to draw Indians closer to the organisation and in trying to placate their fears. Even though there were weaknesses in their approach, ANC activists felt that they were having the desired impact. The ANC recognised the electoral importance of Indians, and at its regional conference in 1995, noted that voters from Chatsworth and Phoenix were alienated from the ANC and resolved to treat those townships as a priority. Mandela’s highly publicised visit to India - his first official state visit - received substantial television coverage. The fact that he has an Indian housekeeper, has visited Chatsworth and Phoenix at least half a dozen times since his release from prison, addressed the World Hinduism Conference in Chatsworth in July 1995, and has stated that he has two areas of love - Africa and the East has been highlighted by ANC activists in Durban. He has also attended celebrations to mark Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights, and his office issues a greeting on religious holidays like Eid. At Mandela’s inauguration, a Hindu and Muslim priest joined their Christian and Jewish counterparts in leading prayer. On the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the NIC, Mandela once again showered praise on Indians. He reasserted the government's commitment to building “non-racialism, national unity and reconciliation” and further stated that the “Indian community is a full part of South African society” and that they have “an enormous role to play in the reconstruction of the country”. Clearly, Mandela has made an effort to cultivate Indian voters.
The Indian middle and working-classes are highly critical of the new bureaucracy who they see as having enriched themselves in the same way as their predecessors under the old regime had done. There has been widespread criticism of the salary packages MPs receive with even the government’s alliance partner, COSATU, attacking parliamentarians’ remuneration. Rank and file supporters are not impressed by the culture of “high living by ANC ministers, MPs, directors-general, diplomats and top aides”. Furthermore, the closure of the RDP office sent a weak signal to voters that “Mr Mandela’s “better life, housing and jobs for all” slogan won’t work for very long.
The middle-class appear to be impatient with the perceived incompetence of both ministers and administrators. Education, which is of immense interest to all black people, is perceived to be equally mismanaged. The ANC Education Minister, Sibusiso Bengu, started his tenure with a dispute with the head of the ANC’s Education Department, John Samuels. Samuels, an Indian, was expected to be appointed Director-General of Education as he had played a key role in educational struggles and was highly regarded within the educational sector. However, he was by-passed in favour of Chabani Maganyi, a university professor with lesser resistance or education policy credentials. After six months in office, the Mail and Guardian carried out an assessment of all the Ministers and ranked Bengu’s performance amongst the weakest. They reported that education was in a serious crisis, but not only had the Minister not left the starting blocks, he was still trying to find them. In short, government ineptitude, which was probably no more substantial than in the past, was now being judged negatively by those in the middle-classes who kept abreast of the transition.
At the 1995 Chatsworth ANC AGM, Maggie Govender, an ANC and SACP stalwart, was surprisingly defeated for a post on the executive by a local businessman who had recently joined the ANC. There was a feeling in some quarters that the organisation needed to deliver to the Indian middle-class as it was they who had historically supported the ANC. It is ironic that this political choice should emerge from Chatsworth, which is still primarily working-class and has a growing number of unemployed residents. Although by the 1990s, like many other townships, Chatsworth had a complex class structure. While there are distinct demarcations between middle and working-class areas, there has also been rapid change as residents have been allowed to purchase and improve on their council-built homes. Social mobility has contributed to the stratification. The new middle-class appears to be moving to established middle-class areas like Isipingo Hills, and Reservoir Hills or former white suburbs. There is also a move from sub-economic housing to better developed areas within the township. Such trends are difficult to discern in Phoenix as it is newer than Chatsworth.
Local government elections, June 1996
When the twice-postponed local government elections finally took place in KwaZulu-Natal on 26 June 1996, there was little doubt that the Indian vote was crucial. Despite being a minority, Indians were courted by all political parties as the mechanics of the new local government system ensured that the former group areas of minorities got equal representation to that of African areas. However, while Indians may have attracted substantially more attention from political parties, a survey conducted in February 1996 showed a further shift towards conservatism and apathy. While Africans were mildly positive about the central government, Indians were negative and whites were intensely negative. Most Indians were sharply critical of both the provincial and central government, and there was a high degree of pessimism about the direction the provincial government was taking.
When the survey was conducted by Project Vote, 65% of Indians as opposed to 74% Africans and 75% whites said they planned to vote - indicating declining political interest as it was estimated that more that 80% voted in the 1994 general elections. Ten percent of Indians said they would not vote and 25% were unsure whether they would or not. At the time of the survey, about 60% of Indians had heard or read about the election, but 29% had not. Of the Indian women surveyed, 45% had not heard or read anything about the election and 46% of Indian youth had not registered to vote. Among the Indians who had not registered, 11% said it was because they did not understand politics; 28% said they did not know how to register; 24% were unable to register; 16 % did not want to register; and 2% had failed to register.
While occupying centre-stage in the electioneering, the majority of working-class Indians in Chatsworth and Phoenix were apparently confused or ignorant of their sudden importance in the province. This ignorance, can be mainly attributed to poor voter education in the run-up to the polls. Although there had been a budget of R70 million allocated to voter education 18 months before the election, authorities acknowledged that not much had actually been done to increase awareness. There had been no television advertising, and general awareness was through the controversies surrounding the election rather than the election itself. The radio awareness campaign was equally weak and ineffective. One study noted that “Indian and Coloured respondents did not find [radio] helpful with voter education, but this derived from their hostility to the election rather than to the medium [of radio]”.
The Indian vote was important because of a compromise by the ANC and its allies at the Local Government Negotiating Forum - the arena at which the details of local government were negotiated. The deal was dubbed the 50/50 Dispensation and for the last time allowed for disproportionate representation of minorities. The agreement ensured that for the first all-inclusive municipal elections, the number of wards within councils would be equally distributed between Indian, White and Coloured areas on the one hand and African areas on the other. While council jurisdictions were drawn with the intention of blurring Group Areas demarcations, in practice the system was designed to ensure special representation for minorities. For example, a former African group area with 10,000 residents could have the same number of representatives as a former white area with only 50 if they were both incorporated into the same council.
The compromise was made in the wake of the national negotiations at CODESA. The distortions caused by the 50/50 dispensation were seen for the first time in November 1995 when local elections were held in other parts of the country and transitional local councils were set up. Indians, make up 13% of the province and are the largest minority and, were thus important during the KwaZulu-Natal local poll. White voters made up 10% of the vote, Coloureds 1.6% and Africans 76%. Thus 24.6% - the combined vote of the minorities - had equal representation to the 76% of the African vote. It must be noted that the 50/50 Dispensation relied on total registration and participation of voters for minorities to make an impact.
However, ethnicity may have been a factor that contributed to neutralising this weighted vote. All the contesting parties in the election approached Indians as a homogenous group. They did not acknowledge their diversity and therefore expected them to vote uniformly. As with local elections in other parts of the country, the contesting parties were varied, but featured the four national players: the ANC, IFP, NP and DP. There were also several independents, among whom were former ANC members. While the ANC showed its concern with capturing the Indian vote by holding a special conference to discuss the election, it chose to focus on broader national issues when electioneering. In its campaigning the ANC chose to focus on the performance of the government, the sharp decline of the rand, the commemoration of the Rebellion of Bambatha, the new constitution and the esteem Indians enjoyed in the ANC. Crime, violence in the province, affirmative action, the death penalty, job losses and unemployment were some of the main concerns of the electorate, but remained unaddressed.
One criticism of the ANC strategy was its insistence on fielding a candidate in opposition to the Merebank Resident’s Association (MRA) candidate, a long-established civic organisation that had strong links with the organisation. The MRA candidate won but the ANC was blamed for splitting loyalties and the vote in that ward. Only one former LAC (Local Affairs Committee) person was fielded by the ANC in Chatsworth. The organisation had relied on his past experience in the local government system to win the seat, but while faring the best of any ANC candidate in Chatsworth, he lost by 36 votes. There were two reasons for this: ANC members did not campaign on his behalf and many said they could not bring themselves to vote for him because they still saw him as a collaborator.
In his campaign Mandela praised Indian involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle. However, Mandela’s pandering to Indians reinforced their “separateness”. Desai contends that by meeting with Rajbansi, Mandela was nurturing a narrow Indian ethnicity and this contributed to the alienation of Indians from the rest of the population.
The NP addressed similar concerns as the ANC, but portrayed itself as the opposition (it had by then withdrawn from the GNU), blaming the ANC-led government for the weak rand, escalating violence in the province and its inability to curb crime. When soliciting support from Indians, the NP mourned the loss of jobs through affirmative action and continued to play on national issues. Party leader De Klerk recognised the threat the MF presented and accused Rajbansi of “playing the ethnic guitar”. However, the ANC’s Charm Govender observed that:
The National Party in Chatsworth operates as a party for elections only. It does not feed into the policy process in a serious manner. There appears to be no branches or an organised presence….no interventions around civic issues….Rajbansi is the same. A group of people meet at his house and then he runs around funerals and weddings and keeps his profile up.
Rajbansi’s MF was the most ethnically-focused party during the elections. Campaigning was made easier as he had a base only among Indian people, and a single race constituency meant that unlike the larger parties, he did not have too many (often contradictory) interests to satisfy. His message as protector of the rights of the minority Indians was sold easily and received well, especially in his stronghold of Chatsworth. Long before the election, he had focused on affirmative action. Living among his supporters, he was able to gauge the pulse of the community and understand the conservatism and hesitation in embracing the unknown. He was also aware of the importance of the minority vote and declared: “The mother of all battles will be the battle for the Indian mind”. He further stated that despite President Mandela’s talk about the “rainbow nation”, in KwaZulu-Natal there was only a zebra nation - it was simply black and white with no space for the (brown) Indians. Rajbansi’s politics became apparent in amateurish newspaper advertisements where he stated: “We were the first to expose the fact that affirmative action was hurting Indians, Coloureds and whites”. Despite his crude play on ethnicity, the ANC tried to make a deal with him over the elections. The organisation admitted that “high level” talks had been held with Rajbansi. One of the suggestions was that in wards where the MF had a strong candidate and the ANC a weak one, it would withdraw its candidate in favour of the MF. While this did not happen, there was pressure from the ANC provincial leadership on local ANC activists to refrain from attacking him as his support in the KwaZulu-Natal parliament had helped thwart the IFP’s constitutional agenda.
The DP also chose to address crime and focused on the competency of its candidates, highlighting its track record in both national and local government. However, the DP is generally not well known among the black electorate - several of its Indian candidates were former HoD politicians who could not claim unblemished records. While the DP tried to carve a support base among middle-class Indians, as it has among whites, it also targeted working-class areas. The IFP, which employed a British consultancy firm at a cost of R2.5 million to advise them on the elections, concentrated on winning the rural vote. Its bid for the Indian vote was left mainly to less politically astute Indians who failed to win the desired support. The utterances and actions of its own party members had alienated Indians. The IFP’s inefficiency as leader of the provincial government also counted against it. In short, the issues and concerns that the parties tackled were generally similar. There was, however, a strong contest from Independents and candidates from Ratepayers’ Associations who dealt only with local issues. The large number of Independents were seen by voters as a positive sign but it also suggested that people were tiring of narrow party politics.
While the ANC won control of the Province’s economic heartland, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the results showed a swing to conservatism, with the NP holding onto much of the support it secured in the 1994 elections. The MF showed the biggest growth in support among Indians. Rajbansi’s narrow focus on Indian issues succeeded. Indeed, conservatism and concern about ethnicity is manifesting itself as a trend in Indian politics. The strong support shown by Indians of Tamil-descent for the militant struggle of Sri Lankan Tamils also indicates that various sub-identities of Indians are relevant. When analysing why the ANC lost the Indian vote, political scientist Adam Habib noted that the organisation had used a strategy that treated Indians as a homogenous group, failing to deal with Indians as a diverse group with varied interests, concerns and fears. He also stated that the ANC had played the “race game” by asking people to vote for it simply because there were many Indian cabinet ministers, while the NP had none. The NP’s success in Phoenix was attributed to the Party’s “swart gevaar” (black danger) tactics, relying on fear of crime to win its support.
This chapter has covered a period in which substantial political and social change took place. The chapter analysed the impact of the ANC on Indian politics, examined the first national democratic elections, the ANC in government and the local government elections in KwaZulu-Natal. During the early 1990s, the NP was substantially better prepared to deal with the vagaries of the transition, unlike the newly legalised ANC, the NIC or other liberation movements. The uncertainty and violence during the transition enabled the NP to build on existing fears of Indians in order to draw them closer to the party and away from the ANC. The international explosion of ethnic and religious conflict and the rise of ethnic mobilisation in KwaZulu-Natal forced the liberation movements to deal with ethnicity in a manner in which they had not done so in the past. However, the NIC’s and ANC’s new-found sensitivity to ethnicity in KwaZulu-Natal was too little too late. In effect, their attempts to engage with ethnicity was inorganic, ad-hoc, and lacked creativity and impact. Indian fears and insecurities were further heightened against the background of intensifying Zulu ethnic mobilisation by Inkatha.
The NIC played no significant role during this period and did little to boost the ANC’s electoral chances. It subsequently suffered a decline in stature and credibility - a condition from which it would be hard to recover. The ANC’s failure to consolidate coherent organisation and networks with the fabric of Indian civil society prevented it from doing better at the polls. While the ANC branch formation process attracted the participation of significant numbers of Indians across the class divide, the process was hindered by several factors. The turbulent politics of KwaZulu-Natal, riddled with internecine violence, sometimes aimed at Indians, led to fear and uncertainty. Both NIC and ANC leadership dithered over the role of the NIC, leading to confusion among activists and Indians at large. The legacy of the cabal, coupled with internal divisions in the Congress movement in the province, militated against the ANC rooting itself with sufficient strength in Indian areas.
However, by international electoral convention, a 24% share of the vote in a particular constituency would be regarded by many established Western political parties as a good result. The ANC’s performance must be seen against the background of a systematic hostile propaganda campaign since its banning in 1961. Despite minor changes at the SABC from 1990, the playing field, particularly in the domain of the electronic media, was hardly even by April 1994. Although the ANC was expected to perform better in the local elections it still did not make inroads into the Indian electorate. The NP, who claimed the role of protector of minorities against an African government, found support among many Indian voters. Despite the ANC’s and Mandela’s statements about Indians in government, it is clear that votes will not be gained until parliamentarians are representative of constituencies, like those of Chatsworth and Phoenix, where two-thirds of Indians live. Indian resistance, which showed much promise in the early 1980s, thus did not translate into a progressive electorate in the mid-1990s, contrary to the expectation of the ANC and other observers.
From: Class, Consciousness and Organisation: Indian Political Resistance in Durban, South Africa, 1979-1996 by Kumi Naidoo