This chapter comes from the book Class, Consciousness and Organisation: Indian Political Resistance in Durban, South Africa, 1979-1996 by Kumi Naidoo
Non-racism is always a fragile plant and it could easily be destroyed by the winds that blow in a rapidly changing society with scarce resources, and as people hide racism behind alternative discourses...A beleaguered state, the heir to massive black-white inequalities and limited resources in an unpropitious international economic climate, is going to find non-racism far more difficult in the face of the demands of its followers for redistribution and positive discrimination...Nevertheless the renewed hegemony of ideals of non-racialism and pan-tribalism in a country which has seen more than a century of the retrenchment of racial separation and racial privilege and the manipulation of ethnicity on an unprecedented scale is surely remarkable and remains truly inspirational.
Shula Marks, Non-Racism in South Africa, 1994
This thesis has examined an important period in South African politics. By using a micro-periodisation approach, we have identified several themes of Indian resistance to apartheid from 1979 to 1996. During this period Indian resistance politics was characterised by a combination of innovation, commitment, disunity and strategic flaws. The ANC, as the pre-eminent resistance organisation, succeeded in attracting only modest support from the Indian electorate in the national elections of 1994 and the local government elections of 1996. However, if these results are viewed from an international perspective and against the historical background of the intermediate location of Indians within the South African social system, and the systematic programmes at co-option implemented by the apartheid state since 1961, they amount to a satisfactory electoral performance.
However, the ANC did not do as well as anticipated. Their optimism was based on the growth of popular grassroots politics in the early 1980s, as discussed in chapters three to six, which witnessed many Indian civil society organisations embracing an anti-apartheid disposition. Furthermore, by 1984 Indian political mobilisation and organisation, while not on par with African resistance, was an important part of the re-emergent national resistance effort. Indians occupied a prominent profile in the leadership of the broader liberation movement and were disproportionately prominent across several sectoral organisations.
The NIC were able, for most of the 1980s, to justifiably claim that there was no credible alternative resistance to the apartheid state amongst Indians. The 1984 anti-election victory, discussed in chapters 4 and 5, ensured that the conservatives were in disarray, disunited and highly unpopular. Furthermore, the NP had historically been anti-Indian and owed its early electoral victories partly to an aggressive anti-Indianism. Also, as chapter 2 illustrated, the early implementation of some of the apartheid policies devastated the social fabric and economic well-being of many Indians. The Group Areas Act (GAA), for example, affected Indians most adversely. Despite the NP’s strategy of selectively developing Indians as a favoured buffer group, it did oppress Indians in numerous ways. For these reasons, the ANC erroneously believed that the majority of Indians would embrace them at the polls.
The ANC and the NIC did not sufficiently acknowledge the shift in NP policy towards Indians from 1961 and its impact on the structural context of Indian life and consciousness. In order to make sense of the relative failure of Indian resistance politics, one must look beyond the confines of Indian reality in South Africa. While this thesis has endeavoured to maintain a comparative eye on developments in Coloured and African resistance, I have relied on my earlier work where structural factors and human agency were concerned. In attempting to understand why the discourses of non-racialism, Black Consciousness and Pan-Africanism failed to take root amongst Indians, and why the ANC and the PAC failed at the ballot box, we need to give attention to both objective and subjective factors and to understand how they influenced and interacted with each other. This conclusion also suggests areas of possible further research and attempts to anticipate future scenarios. Finally, I suggest that there is an urgent need to construct an Afrindian Identity to deal with the existing alienation and perceived marginalisation of the majority of working-class Indians.
Objective factors influencing resistance
The structural context
From 1961 onwards the apartheid state sought to improve the economic and social conditions of Indians. This policy was driven by two objectives: co-option and the need for skilled personnel. The Indian working-class still constitutes about 60% of the total Indian population and is highly stratified, as are the middle-classes and the commercial bourgeoisie. There has been some social mobility due to education and this has benefited both the working and middle-classes. The upward mobility of the working and middle-classes over the last thirty years had a significant impact on political consciousness and structurally incorporated many Indians into the social and economic system. However, changing economic conditions in the 1980s did bring pressures to the lower middle-class and the working-class and resulted in greater fears about the impending political transition. By the early 1990s, most working-class people began to withdraw into a mental laager of “better the devil you know than the devil you do not know” in the face of Inkatha’s aggressive Zulu nationalism.
Conditions in Indian working-class townships were also of a better standard than in African townships. This gave working-class Indians a stake, albeit a small one, in the system. While many still carried anger about the devastation caused by the GAA, there were those who were too young to remember the removals, or too old and settled to conceive of a life outside of these group areas. However, many of those who were moved to the townships came to share a view that while community life was not what it used to be, the material environment had improved. A greater access to education and sometimes to jobs was perhaps the most important structural factor during the 1970s and 1980s.
Following the 1994 elections, affirmative action threatened the economic space that the Indian working-class had secured over the decades. Although ANC policy made it clear that affirmative action included Indians, most Indians believed otherwise. Apart from this, many employers in the commercial and industrial sector misinterpreted affirmative action to mean the inclusion of Africans only. Others firmly understood and believed the term "previously disadvantaged communities" to imply Africans, while still others deliberately chose to misunderstand affirmative action in an effort to alienate Indians and Coloureds from the ANC. Hence a number of Indians encountered the experience of not being considered for affirmative action positions or promotions. It is practices like these that lead to Indians feeling marginalised and excluded.
While the commercial bourgeoisie and the Indian middle-class stood to gain from the transition, many of whom supported the ANC, it must be noted that there has been insignificant changes in the status and position of teachers and civil servants. As was pointed out in chapter eight, Indian civil servants are likely to support the party in power and so in Kwazulu-Natal, some appear to be aligning themselves with the IFP. Since education in Kwazulu-Natal is now under the control of the IFP, a number of senior administrative staff in Indian schools are leaning towards the IFP. The NP, who opposed affirmative action, started to directly seek Indian support in 1994 through its own party structures whereas over the past three decades they had used intermediaries.
Class formation processes and structural changes have improved life for many Indians over the last three and a half decades. While structural segregation set the broad terms for the development of political discourses and practices, non-racialism was at best practised on the shop-floor and at universities but was mainly relegated to a theoretical hope. Only a small number of resistance leaders and activists were able to develop serious inter-racial relationships based on trust, common experiences and a shared political vision. The GAA was thus a huge limitation in building non-racialism for all resistance organisations.
The ANC and NIC, while acknowledging the marginalisation of Indians, often failed to effectively translate the realities of differentiated oppression, both in discourse and praxis. Therefore the ANC and other left organisations failed to build an effective political organisation which could draw on the rich plethora of organisations that constituted Indian civil society. The objective dividing features of language, religion and culture further hindered the promotion of non-racialism and impeded organisational efforts. As we saw in chapter six, some campaigns recognised the importance of promoting non-racialism in a practical way, but were unsuccessful as a result of the structural constraints faced by resistance formations. Indians were also highly heterogeneous. Class, religion, residential locations, language-background, gender and generation gaps were some of the social variables militating against a common Indian identity.
The influence of the media
This thesis has shown the power, pervasiveness and persistence of the mass media in moulding political consciousness. The construction of a separate Indian identity has been central to this process. The capacity of resistance organisations to counteract this formidable agency was limited as the electronic media was controlled by the state and was used to propagate its apartheid agenda. Racially targeted media had a powerful influence, and while the print media was fragmented, they - as a result of political choice and government restrictions - enforced racial segregation. The small alternative press did not exert much influence over Indians as they did not target them as a group and were unable to compete with the hegemony of the SABC and commercial media. Not being exposed to the alternative media meant that many Indians had a very skewed, one-sided picture of the South African reality. Furthermore, the literacy level amongst Africans was low and the cutting edge of resistance ran deep. In contrast, Indians had a standard of living that was relatively bearable and they were bombarded by the state ideological apparatus in such a manner that it was difficult to escape its influence. While there was awareness of this objective reality, NIC leaders often did not show sufficient sensitivity to the influence of the media when implementing their programmes.
The political shifts in editorial policy that coincided with the ANC’s rise to power was expected to help increase Indian support for the organisation, but this did not happen. Although there has been profound changes to SABC policy which now promotes inclusiveness, rather than separateness, there is no noticeable shift in the consciousness of Indians. However, one should not expect changes in consciousness as a result of the combined effect of the media. The role of the media as a central and defining feature of political consciousness construction does not suggest that the media alone can shape consciousness, nor does it suggest that during the 1980s there was no space for creative interventions to counter the state’s media offensive.
During the last two decades the impact of the media as a tool of propaganda was limited in the African areas. There were several reasons for this: there was the strong contemporary culture of mass resistance and oral communication, the direct experience of apartheid atrocities, the high levels of political mobilisation and significant levels of popular organisation. Apart from this, many African households simply did not have access to televisions, radios and newspapers, while almost every Indian household did. The NIC placed their faith in organisation to counteract state ideology. Indian civic organisations and in some instances youth organisations exhibited higher levels of organisational coherence and professionalism than in most African areas. However, there was little translation of this organisation into mobilisation. These efforts ultimately could not counterbalance the impact of the media.
Subjective factors influencing resistance
Assessing organisational strategy
The apartheid regime and the liberation movement competed for Indian political allegiance while reinforcing their separateness. The state’s agenda was to try to create a buffer zone between whites and Africans. The NIC’s agenda was to deliver Indians to the ANC. In the period between 1979 and 1984, African resistance was relatively weak in Durban, compared to Indian resistance which sometimes appeared to be stronger, so much so that civic organisations from other parts of the country were drawing lessons from civics in Chatsworth. There was a range of organisations in Indian civil society, in schools, sport, religious and cultural institutions, which had a strong institutional base outside of politics. Organisational skills were strong amongst Indian activists but they were unable to translate this strength to mobilisation.
Social distance as a result of factors such as class and geography, between the organisers and the constituencies they sought to organise, raised questions as to whose interests these organisations were advocating. Many Indians viewed progressive political organisations as acting more in the interests of Africans since calls for social justice and the eradication of apartheid clearly were to benefit Africans, whereas the direct benefits for Indians and Coloureds was not clear.
The language of mobilisation used by the NIC and several local progressive organisations was infused with militant rhetoric which, while being appropriate to African constituencies, did not strike a chord with Indians. Organisations were unable to make a connection even through the use of symbolism like toyi-toying and the singing of Nkosi Sikele Africa. There was no attempt to develop a unique, home grown mobilisation strategy that would give Indians the feeling that they belonged and that the struggle was also theirs. The music, the sound, and the culture of mobilisation was imported from African areas. Moreover, cadres developed a cultural distance between themselves and their constituencies. The pressure to borrow cultural symbols of resistance from African areas stemmed from the propensity for a partnership with Africans and the national liberation struggle. Most importantly, Indian activists were not able to clarify to their constituencies how political change away from apartheid would benefit them directly. The greatest clarity provided was in the very generalised slogans of the Freedom Charter.
The issue of deliverance was instrumental in politics and perhaps unwittingly contributed to the image that Indians were a political football of both the right and left. Even the 1984 anti-election campaign was fought on the platform that participation will alienate Indians and Coloureds from Africans, and will create the impression that they are jointly responsible with whites for perpetuating and reinforcing racial discrimination and apartheid. The slogans of the anti-election campaign rang out messages of "How will African people view our participation", "What will African people say", "We have to demonstrate our solidarity with the Africans by not participating in this election".
There is a need to recognise the difference between deliverance and building genuine non-racialism. The anti-election campaigns for example, while embracing non-racial rhetoric, was essentially arguing for unity between Indians and Africans. This unity did not amount to non-racist discourse. If anything it unwittingly generated greater fear on the part of Indians for Africans and encouraged the feeling that the interests of Indians were subordinate to that of Africans. The idea of deliverance may have also entrenched the notion that Indians have no natural and primary right to be African, or the right to even belong to Africa. This encourages the need for attachments to other constituencies, such as the MF or the NP, that they feel may give them some security.
The disproportionately high youth profile of the activist community is another important factor to consider. The NIC failed to provide substantive leadership in the working-class townships of Chatsworth and Phoenix. Hence the leadership in these areas tended to be very young. When the NIC came to operate in a closed manner it discouraged its own activist base and pushed people away from the organisation. Furthermore, as we saw in chapter seven, the organisational strategy of the NIC did not include physical interactions with people across the racial divide. To be fair, this was difficult because of the GAA, and the question was certainly not ignored. However, the various discussions about building non-racialism in practice, did not result in any meaningful programme of action to reverse the apartheid socialisation processes.
While the NIC utilised a strategy to build consciousness around material concerns, such as rent and transport, they were unable to effectively link these issues to national politics. While some credit is due to the NIC for enabling the emergence of a strong organisational cadre, it would be fair to say that many of these cadre evolved from independent youth, civic and other community based organisations without the direct input of the NIC leadership.
The 1980s saw the emergence of strong and independent social formations. Apart from religious and sports organisations, a plethora of other organisations emerged. These civil society formations did not owe their roots to any historical thread. They were organic to the new townships in which they took root. Within these social formations, there was an emergence of young politically active people who then sought to link up with their counterparts across the racial divide, often without the encouragement of the NIC. It was these young, independent thinking people who raised questions and highlighted the contradictions that existed within the NIC. It can be argued that many of the grassroots civic and youth activists enjoyed a higher credibility and had a greater social base amongst the working-class constituencies of Chatsworth and Phoenix, than many NIC leaders.
The NIC’s domination by males had important implications. The fact that women within the NIC were ascribed a particular, inferior, subservient position, status and location under the rubric of “Indian culture”, ensured that women were marginal to building resistance. Many traditional roles were invoked: serving; cooking at functions; playing the good wife when husbands were detained; or making appropriate public appearances, not as activists in their own right but as appendages of their “progressive” husbands. Nevertheless, many Indian women did come to play an important role within the trade union movement, and in organisations like the Natal Organisation of Women. Several Indian women also occupied important positions within the underground resistance.
The prominence of Indians in resistance organisations during the apartheid era and in organisations of both the state and civil society in the present period can be attributed primarily to the intermediate location of Indians. While not experiencing the full brunt of racial brutality, Indians experienced several acts of racist control that led to their feeling that their humanity was being undermined. Hence, there was sufficient basis for many people to be aggrieved with the state and to resist it. However, in doing so, an Indian activist would have had the advantage of access to a better education and a less repressive environment. It is fair to say that the intermediate location of Indians provided relatively more protection against the repressive arms of the state. The class structure of Indian society also ensured that Indian activists had a bigger pool of family, financial, and legal resources to draw from. This enabled activists to commit substantial periods of time to political work.
Ethnicity and resistance
It would be incorrect, notwithstanding the high level of heterogeneity, to conclude that Indians have no collective group identity. However, for most of the 1980s this was latent and was only activated around moments of crisis such as the Inanda incidents discussed in chapter seven. This heterogeneity will probably ensure that Indians will adopt three broad approaches to the political world in the future:
- Indifference (the attitude that if certain situations do no affect me directly, then I am not too concerned);
- A Strong ethnic identification (I am an Indian and must side with Indians, irrespectively);
- A Strong South African identity (I must look at society objectively and not align myself narrowly with Indian interests).
This thesis has shown that Indians possessed multiple, vacillating identities that were socially and politically constructed by both the apartheid state and the various political movements. Ethnic conflicts have the capacity to explode unexpectedly, as we saw with the Inanda riots. Resistance agendas came up against the fraught context of KwaZulu Natal, which lent itself to ethnic manipulation. The withdrawal and general retreat from resistance politics by Indians started to recur from 1985 onwards, as we saw in chapter seven, as the muscle of African resistance began to flex itself both in Durban and nationally. The dominant culture of resistance did not resonate with Indians in terms of language, slogans, militancy, content and symbols. The toyi-toyi, for example, as a 1980s cultural phenomenon was largely alienating for most Indians. It was only a small fraction of the student and youth sector who were able to embrace these cultural forms. Efforts to incorporate Indian symbolism in the broader resistance movement failed. When specific Indian symbolism such as garlanding of political leaders and inserting Indian liberation songs into mass rallies were used, they did not succeed in building confidence amongst ordinary Indians.
The NIC and other progressives often negated Indianness, notwithstanding the bearing of an Indian ethnic tag in its name. Ethnicity was engaged with in an inorganic and uncreative manner for most of the 1980s. After the unbannings in 1990, in the context of a heightened focus on ethnicity both locally and internationally, again the response was knee jerk, ad hoc and unable to meet the concerns of the mass of Indians, as was shown in chapter seven and eight. Furthermore, the NIC engaged with non-racialism in a largely symbolic way which was often crude, as when four people represented the four races on a public platform. The ANC also appears to be doing similar things at times, but Africanist ideas and the need to assert the African leadership sometimes militate against such symbolism.
There will always be a spectrum of political feelings which will include varying levels of ethnic consciousness. But like most South Africans, Indians have multiple identities and for many their religious identity is far more important than a racial or ethnic one. Some are conscious of their working-class location, and, while having an antipathy for the Indian elite, they find themselves in competition with their African counterparts. The future of Indian politics is dependent on the making of a new South African identity which accommodates Indianness. However, Indians have an imagined home base in India and ethnicity thus uses India as a spiritual reference point. What Indians themselves feel about being connected to India is still an open question, and one which invites several diverse answers.
There is clearly a complex, fluid and fractured ethnic identity which came about as a result of generations of social engineering. As generations advanced, the visual collective memory of India became weaker and weaker. I have never met an Indian South African who wanted to go back to India. The main issue was that of a genuine rejection of white domination and fear of African domination. Many Indians saw themselves as being stuck between a fear of Africans and a moral rejection of white rule.
Consciousness and resistance
There were class differences with respect to the four consciousness assessment criteria we evolved in chapter one. If we take the Indian working-class, their political knowledge, political strategy and political vision might have been limited. However, when mobilised around issues that directly affected them, such as rents, their children’s education or even workplace issues, political commitment was in evidence. While this commitment had several limitations and hardly ever came close to that of the African working-class, there is evidence of political commitment. Working-class people had little economic and social space to be politically committed, and had limited recourse to resources, but they did have a sufficient stake in the system to be wary of losing their relative economic and political privilege. The bourgeoisie had excellent political knowledge, political vision and a sense of political strategy, but beyond a cheque book contribution to the struggle they had little political commitment. The middle-class, the most stratified of the three broad class categories, tended to have political knowledge, vision and strategy, with those that embraced a progressive perspective being politically committed. However, in sociological terms, this group had the space, economically and socially, to engage in the pursuit of resistance. Yet this category was also the most contradictory, for while there existed a progressive segment, there was also a larger and stronger collaborative strand. In the main, those that abstained from direct political involvement were not supportive of the collaborative strand and would have been broadly sympathetic with the progressives.
For many Indians political allegiance and consciousness appeared to be a transient notion with a short shelf life. This was as Indian resistance does not run deep and is not part of the mass culture of the Indian working-class. In moments of high social volatility, it is likely that people can experience substantive shifts in consciousness over a short period. For example a bomb blast could have the capacity and indeed did convert a person from being pro-ANC one day to being violently opposed to it the next. The armed propaganda of the ANC caused high levels of consternation amongst Indians, instead of bringing them closer to the ANC. The portrayal of the ANC, by the media as a villainous organisation no doubt gave credence to this image. Consciousness formation amongst Indians was not only dependent on the state agenda and the subjectivity of Indian reality, but was powerfully influenced by the political developments amongst Africans in and around Durban.
Resistance and political leadership
One of the biggest failures that must be attributed to the male, middle-class, suburban leadership of the NIC was its inability to develop political leadership in Phoenix and Chatsworth. There were many leaders who emerged in these townships, but they were given mainly local space and were not encouraged to develop into NIC provincial leaders. There was also little conscious attempt to develop a cadre of leadership in anticipation of elections, and to lay the basis for Congress electoral candidates. To be fair, though, most of the energies were focused around building organisational profiles rather than leadership profiles in the context of collective leadership approaches. Of course, different periods and contexts require different leaderships, and the emergence after the unbanning of the ANC of a new brand of middle-class politicians who had been largely inactive in the past, further blocked the participation of working-class activists. But the failure of the ANC to generate a single MP at either the provincial or national level, from Chatsworth or Phoenix is a reflection of the vast difference between the Indian working-class and the ANC and its allies. However, this reality reflects more of a failure of the 1980s. By the 1990s it was already too late to make an effort to reverse the withdrawal from resistance politics by the majority of Indians.
Amongst other reasons, which included the high levels of conflict, the apparent control by a elite and unaccountable leadership of the NIC, several Indian cadres moved away from organising specifically in the Indian sector. The huge difference between activist consciousness and that of their constituents also contributed to this flight of Indian activists from the terrain of Indian resistance politics to serve NGOs, trade unions, the ANC and other progressive organisations. In effect, the Indian activists constituted a particular left sub-culture which shared some bonding with Indian social reality. On the other hand none of the NIC executives seemed to inspire the permanent and enthusiastic confidence of the Indian working-class. By comparison,, Rajbansi, notwithstanding the fact that he had been tarnished publicly as being corrupt, had a very high media profile. Love him or hate him, his was a recognisable face. Using what appeared to be a simple philosophy that all publicity is good publicity, Rajbansi would by the 1994 election inspire greater confidence in the electorate than any other Indian. One reason for this is that many people believed that those who received media coverage could get things done.
Rajbansi lives in Chatsworth, where he has developed a political base. Unlike ANC and NIC leaders, he is seen to be close to the people. The material and physical distance between the NIC leadership in the 1980s and the people of Phoenix and Chatsworth was an important subjective factor that explains the electoral failures in the 1990s. Some have suggested that certain Indian resistance luminaries such as Pravin Gordhan deserted Indians in the early 1990s for greater national political glory. While it is tempting to suggest that certain key figures in the NIC who now enjoy the benefits of senior positions in parliament or in the state bureaucracy acted out of a narrow political careerism, I desist from endorsing this position. Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that the transition does make space for this kind of upward social mobility, and these examples demonstrate that Indians are actually not being marginalised. The NIC, it must be remembered, was not a monolithic, homogenous body. However, one of the features that characterised most of the NIC leaders and the inner circle was a deep commitment to the liberation struggle. As transition accelerated, it is fair to speculate that personal career choices did motivate decisions, but to suggest that this was part of a long-term strategy by certain individuals is not true. Rather there were both philosophical and organisational blunders, and there were inappropriate levels of arrogance which led to the demise in status of the NIC and its incapacity to deliver the Indian electorate to the ANC at the ballot box.
The failure to resolve the future of the NIC after the legalisation of the ANC generally undermined the status of the Indian left. They appeared incoherent, uninspiring and incapable of influencing the ANC leadership. The earlier decline in Indian/African relations within the emergent legal ANC in Natal as a result of what was seen as cabalism and a history of undemocratic practices within the UDF (which had been disproportionately dominated by the NIC since its formation in 1983) was another organisational failure that took its toll. The failure to develop programmes to build non-racism in practice resulted in existing stereotypes being enforced and consolidated. There appeared to be a greater willingness by Africans to embrace Indians in sport and politics. However, in reality the inter-racial contact between Indians and Africans was restricted to the leadership level and hardly involved the rank-and-file. When this did happen, it was mainly at mass rallies which were not conducive to personal interactions and did not help to confront prejudices ingrained over decades, however subtle they may have been. The upshot of this was that non-racialism was in effect an abstract construction of the liberation leadership which did not resonate in a meaningful and practical way in the life of the Indian and African masses.
In any event, even this abstract construction of non-racialism was ill-defined or at best an evolving notion. It is worth remembering that the PAC was formed as a result of a split from the ANC in 1959 which arose partly out of conflict around questions of domination by whites and Indians within the ANC. The evolution of BC in the 1970s sought to create space for Black self-determination, and the relatively late inclusion of all South Africans in the ANC executive in 1985 indicated that the notion of non-racialism was evolving and was certainly a contested terrain. These discourse and organisational transformations and contestations were happening within the space of four decades, and as such they constituted fluidity in the macro-resistance environment which partly prescribed the limits and possibilities for Indian mobilisation. In effect, it was impossible for the Indian left to develop a conception of non-racialism and operationalise it in an environment where that notion was still evolving nationally and, worse still, was being intensely contested.
Gender and resistance
Gender relations also affected resistance patterns and involvement. As we have seen, Indian women were fighting for greater space in the political world. The civic and student struggles of the early 1980s enabled several Indian women to emerge as grassroots leaders. However, this was not reflected either in the NIC or in the UDF in a substantial manner. The absence of a visible women’s presence in the leadership was a major failing of the resistance movement. It appeared that the imperatives of urgent political tasks relegated gender issues to the back burner. It was only “once in a while” that gender issues formed a part of the political discourse. However, the location of women as ascribed by “Indian culture” also made it difficult for women to assert themselves in politics.
It was much easier for young women to get permission to go to a disco than it was to get parental consent to participate in politics. Here the fear factor was the major problem. Within this constrained context, it is remarkable that many working-class and middle-class women did participate in a range of grassroots and other organisations. Indian women, albeit in small numbers, joined Umkhonto we Sizwe and worked in the national youth, student and women’s movement, thus reflecting yet another left sub-culture amongst Indians.
Areas of further research
Given that this thesis has covered a lengthy chronological period, it has not been possible to treat various events in as much detail as they warranted. While I have given thorough treatment to the significance of the 1984 tricameral elections campaign, further work and studies focusing specifically on the April 1994 elections and the June 1996 local government elections will be important in order to complete the picture of resistance and transition. One of the difficulties in undertaking a study of Indian resistance politics in the 1980s and 1990s is the absence of substantial historical work covering the period 1948 to 1979. While there was a proliferation of generalised studies of resistance in the 1980s, the absence of contextualised studies during the period in which Indian resistance was largely moribund makes it difficult to fully understand political responses in the present. It is for this reason that such a study, focusing both on state strategy and civil society would be invaluable.
Indian involvement in trade unions also requires special attention. This thesis has not been able to delve in depth into the operations and functioning of unions. It would be important to undertake such a study in an historical perspective since there have been significant shifts in Indian involvement in unions from the 1940s till the present. Other civil society organisations that have been discussed in this thesis besides trade unions, also provide a basis for in-depth study in the future. The predominantly working-class townships of Chatsworth and Phoenix have now consolidated into politically significant residential communities. While some studies have examined religious and educational developments within these communities, and while this thesis has examined resistance politics with a special emphasis on Chatsworth, both these townships require specific investigation so as to understand better the Indian working-class, the class formation processes amongst Indians, and how these affect political consciousness and organisation.
This study has been influenced by some of my earlier work looking at resistance in Durban in a comparative perspective, in particular a study which dealt with youth resistance in the 1980s. Further comparative studies which look at the commonalities and differences amongst Indian, Coloureds and Africans are needed in order to understand how non-ethnic solidarities might be able to emerge. One factor, only alluded to briefly in this study is the question of language as a barrier. More Indians speak Afrikaans than Zulu, and this restricts the capacity to build non-racial organisations, as we discussed in chapter four. A specific study examining resistance and language will be of importance.
It is more useful to consider the South African Indian as a socio-historical construct rather than a racial or biological one. Class structure will continue to be a factor in Indian politics. However, it will not be static or uniform, but will depend on ethnicity, religious, linqua-cultural and residential area distinctions, and will be reconstructed in relation to broader socio-political developments in South Africa. Ethnic networks will continue to have salience for the working-class since Indian townships are unlikely to witness substantial demographic change, but instead will retain the core character that apartheid intended. The upper echelons of the middle-class and the growing commercial bourgeoisie will continue to consolidate commercial cocoons, typical of other “middlemen minorities” elsewhere.
Sections of the middle-class, particularly those who are incorporated into the emerging bureaucracies of the state and capital, and who move into former white areas, will develop a more strongly South African identity. The marginal urban poor, who constitute about 10% of Indians, might yet come to invest their confidence in trade unions and other civic bodies but still hope that their interests might be safeguarded by the Indian elite. Generally, what this thesis has established is that Indians have two dominant strands of identification: an exclusive Indian ethnic minority-marginality strand, and a South African inclusive non-racialism strand. The Indian ethnic minority strand can be broken down further: an exclusive ethnic minority strand represented by supporters of the MF, and an inclusive strand of minority ethnicities represented by those who voted for the NP.
Violence and insecurity will need to be substantially absent before the ANC can swing the support of Indians to its side. Given the political equation in KwaZulu-Natal, Indians have a critical role to play in assisting the ANC to win power. However, the consciousness of fear, the sense of being victim rather than actor, the perpetuation of the sandwich syndrome, and the notion of “being between the devil and the deep blue sea” need to be addressed by the political forces wishing to consolidate hegemony for non-racialism in the KwaZulu Natal province. Minority rights protection measures will do little to safeguard the interests of any of South Africa’s minorities beyond what has already been provided in the new constitution and the Bill of Rights. The future security of Indians lies in their own actions. Indians need to work more closely with other South Africans in the building of a democratic South Africa and must take a more active role in the discussions, debates and activities emanating from the Reconstruction and Development Programme. However, this must be done in such a manner that the propensity to homogenise Indians is resisted. Indian women, for example, must assert their specific concerns and interests, which are often different from those of Indian men, in terms of the work of the Gender Commission. Indian workers must do likewise within trade unions.
The ANC, though, faces a huge challenge to dislodge the ingrained fear that many Indians feel as a minority group. What we have seen is that actual violence and the threat of violence have combined to create “deep trepidation and feelings of vulnerability” among Indians. The spectre of African violence, often criminal acts rather than racially-inspired violence, has become a part of Indian folklore and in the end is the most powerful sponsor of an Indian ethnic group identity. Three and a half years after the institution of a democratic government, many of these fears have proved exaggerated. Houses were not seized, people have not lost jobs en-masse, and violence has not increased substantially in Indian areas.
The NP and IFP are in the main election parties in the Indian areas. They do not seek to become mass participatory political organisations. If the ANC wishes to reverse its electoral failings amongst the Indian working-class, it will need to make a concerted effort in Chatsworth and Phoenix to develop alliances and networks with community-based civil society organisations that articulate the multiple identities present amongst the Indian working-class. I would argue that working-class personalities, or popular middle-class people who reside in Chatsworth and Phoenix, and who are seen as accessible to the electorate, must achieve prominence in KwaZulu Natal. The Indian ANC leaders must develop a profile as being non-racialists as well as being genuinely concerned about the interests of the Indian working-class. While this is not an easy task, failure to engage in this project could see a further growth of reactionary ethnic sentiments coupled with the consolidation of a siege mentality.
The non-racial homogenising project of the ANC might, over time, see a limited blurring of certain frontiers of identity across the racial divide. This will depend primarily on how substantially the structural context changes and how it impacts on such factors as fear, violence and security. The present decline of vibrant ANC-aligned or sympathetic organisations in Indian areas suggests that the space is now more open for the mobilisation of stronger ethnic consciousness as represented by the MF and the NP. However, the situation is fluid, and will continue to be so, both at the level of consciousness formation and organisation. The ANC has certainly not yet thrown in the towel with regard to Indians, and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.
The making of an Afrindian consciousness
This thesis has shown that identity is an important determinant of political responses. In thinking through the future of Indians in South Africa it is critical that new identities are imagined, created and developed. Indians are physically and culturally distinct, and it is both unwise and unwarranted that their historical origins should be negated. However, it must be recognised that the Indian South African identity has been constructed over the years by a range of different social processes and agencies. More importantly, it is a highly heterogeneous identity. South African Indian culture is a constructed culture informed by its context and by the historically distinct and diverse experiences of indenture on the one hand and a merchant class experience on the other.
Working towards developing and creating a South African Indian identity is not good enough. We need to either rebuild South Africanness as a cultural and political construct or to undertake the construction of a new Africanness. It is in the strategic interests of Indians to re-imagine themselves as if they were a linguistic/cultural group, like the Zulus or Xhosas, so that they are allowed distinctiveness without question of their right to sit at the South African family table. There are already many positive efforts in this direction. For example, Hindu and Muslim prayers are accommodated at all major state functions. Both the Shaka Day celebration in Durban on 21 September 1996, and Heritage Day, included Indian classical dancing. There are many attempts by the new political elites to recognise Indian cultural distinctiveness, while at the same time trying to be inclusive.
It would be inappropriate to negate history and culture and push for a simplistic assimilation process. We therefore need to construct a space within a South African national identity for an Afrindian Consciousness. We need to make an effort towards nurturing and developing an Afrindian identity that brings together elements of Indian and African culture. However, this process should not be linked to the present nation-state of India since South African Indianness is a specific construction of the African continent. In any event Indian Muslims share a greater affinity to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern countries. So in effect I do not believe it is appropriate to be insensitive to the cultural preferences and religious needs of South African Indians. It needs to be recognised that immigrant communities the world over create new forms of culture, as did the Afrikaner descendants of Dutch and other European migrants. In short, what we have in South Africa today is not Indian culture in any pure sense, but a culture specific to South African Indians.
Furthermore, Indians are first and foremost South Africans. Notwithstanding the fears and insecurities they may experience, they owe their primary and overwhelming commitment to South Africa. It is true that they experience the duality of being insiders and outsiders, as Freund has contended. However, the feelings of marginality are not accompanied to any substantial extent by identification with India or anywhere else. A small section of the upper echelons of the Indian middle-class have the option of emigrating to countries of the “first world” that will accept them. But for the majority, South Africa is home and that is where they will need to mediate their existence and location despite the uncertainties that lie ahead. Indians need to recognise that these feelings of uncertainty affect millions of South Africans across the racial divide. They also need to recognise their commonalties and their differences, and work together with other South Africans to ensure their security and a comfortable location in society.
However, one is left with the question as to whether non-racialism can accommodate a South African Indian identity? Is it possible to be non-racial and be proud of Indian dancing and music? Can Blackness within the BC framework allow space for Indians and Coloureds and other distinct language groupings amongst Africans? I would argue that there is no compelling reason why, even within the terms of BC, there should not be a space for Indianness, a position articulated by Biko himself in the 1970s. However, while non-racialism, Black Consciousness, Pan-Africanism and rainbowism interact and compete with each other, the importance of asserting one’s Africanness is also important. The Afrindian construct that I am proposing would seek to indigenise the Indian South African experience. It would enable Indian South Africans to develop a greater commitment to the African continent while recognising their historical origins and their distinctive cultural make up. Afrindianness, if creatively constructed, could help Indians feel less marginal, less alienated and less foreign. Just as Zulus, Xhosas, Afrikaners and so on, take their seat at the South African family table, Afrindians should be able do so with no question of where their primary allegiance lies.
To reiterate, Afrindianness does not suggest a negation of Indian culture or history. It does however, suggest that there is little point in hankering after a distant historical link. The NIC made the erroneous assumption that most Indians were hankering to be closer to India and sought to mobilise around memories of Gandhi, the NIC’s history and related symbols of the past. Clearly this has not resulted in political dividends.
There is no sense in longing for India, but there is sense in belonging to Africa. If Indianness is constructed as Afrindianness, then it is recognising its historical Indian origins but is reconstructing a political symbolism that is specific to Africa. Part of the unwillingness of Indians to engage in non-ethnic alliances and engagements relates to a feeling of otherness and foreigness. Rajbansi has expediently mobilised a narrow Indianness which will lead Indians towards a limited Indian ethnic, separatist identity that can only benefit the political agenda of ethnic cultural entrepreneurs like himself. Those like Rajbansi who strum their ethnic guitars and seek to construct pure, compartmentalised identities, clearly give no credence to the forces of globalisation and social change. Such approaches will serve to lead Indians to a racial and ethnic ghetto which will not serve their political and economic interests in the long term. For different reasons both the left and the right in Indian politics stand to benefit from the emergence of an Afrindian Consciousness and identity. How key religious and other political players respond to a notion of Afrindianness will be of importance for its success.
An Afrindian identity and consciousness must recognise the diversity within Indian culture. To talk about a homogenous Indian culture would not be appropriate. Just as it is not possible to speak of a single, distinct Zulu or Xhosa culture, likewise an Afrindian cultural and political construct should exhibit this diversity. I am also not arguing that there should be no space for distinct cultural practices. Fundamentally, there is no problem with the desire to adhere to particular and distinct cultural practices, provided that they do not impinge on other people’s rights.
An Afrindian consciousness aggressively pursued by the left will not simply be seeking to assimilate into the dominant culture as is the concern facing immigrant minorities elsewhere in the world. South Africa has arrived at something of a unique historical moment as it seeks to fashion a new meaning of what it means to be South African in the twenty-first century. Rather than withdrawing into a mythical Indian cultural laager, Indians should assert themselves sensitively and creatively into the broader South African culture. However, to do this effectively, Indian South Africans must indigenise themselves beyond any question of doubt and embrace Africa unequivocally. It is this route that will open up new identities, new alliances and new relations. We can certainly imagine a world where Muslims and Christians from Indian, Coloured, African and white backgrounds embrace each other as family members, and with a oneness of identity where race and ethnicity are not constraints to interaction and relationship building. We can envisage other alliances, interactions and relationships that include workers, women, youth, sport and other civil society organisations. It is true that the group areas reality will not disappear overnight, and that Indian, African and Coloured areas will retain the character that apartheid delineated for them. But already there are signs of this breaking down, albeit only on a limited scale. While the group areas reality, and other apartheid restrictions hindered non-racial interactions in the past, the present macro political environment is ripe for such interactions.
In this thesis I have asserted that in the period under study there was a significant lack of depth in political organisation, which led to an inability to deal with racism, ethnicity and class in an organic manner; a failure to respond to the new state strategy post 1960; and a failure to develop working-class leadership, particularly in the townships of Chatsworth and Phoenix where the bulk of Indians reside. However, it is important to record that many Indian activists, from the working-class concentrations as well as from middle-class areas, did succeed in developing new organisational forms and broadened participation in the political struggle beyond perhaps what the apartheid state thought possible. There are many lessons to be learned from the processes and the events of the last sixteen years. While I am certain that I have not exhausted all the issues, I hope that this study will contribute towards some earnest reflection on the past and open a small window on the future.
Given the social distortions caused by apartheid, South Africa has got off to a brilliant start. To a large extent, antagonism is hardly present. It remains to be seen if Afrindianness can interact with rainbowism to enable the emergence of class solidarities, gender solidarities and educational solidarities amongst the youth.
One wonders if South Africa will ever have as vibrant a civil society as it had under apartheid? The challenge that faces those that continue to support notions of participatory democracy is that they would need to find ways of suggesting to their constituencies the importance of participation in civic, youth and other social formations as well as in the local branches of their favoured political parties. The move towards permanently institutionalising proportional representation at the expense of constituency-based elections for provincial and national elections is a threat to grassroots participatory politics. It also undermines the position of fully accountable, democratically elected public representatives who are directly accessible to their electorate.
The future of non-racialism, Black Consciousness, Pan-Africanism and rainbowism is unclear. What is evident is that the success of any of these discourses is more dependent on the organisational vehicle which promotes it and less on the efficacy and appropriateness of the content of the discourse itself. It is only two years more before South African voters go to the polls in their second national democratic election. Several possible developments might yet occur. As non-racialism merges with rainbowism, and as the ANC government struggles to meet all its 1994 election promises it seems likely that the fragility of non-racialism will be severely tested.