Sunday morning is the one morning in the week that everyone looks forward to. If the Sunday morning sleep is disturbed, the whole week is disturbed. And this is exactly what happened on Sunday, 25th Oct ‘15. As the Sunday Tribune was being distributed early that morning, a person who was returning from Fajr salaat decided to stop at a service station. He spotted, to his utter dismay, an article on Phumlani Mfeka, who had only recently tweeted: “A good Indian is a dead Indian.” Mfeka who heads the “Injeje Yamanguni” in KwaZulu Natal, was quoted as saying: “We as Africans have remained silent for far too long whilst Indians continue to exploit, abuse and monopolize everything in the land of our forefathers. Just like our forefathers in 1949 and ‘85, we now also have to rather die than to be the symbol of poverty in our own land, a curtain of blood must veil the whole of KZN so that the blood of our ancestors can attain justice or we die fighting for it. This Indian hegemony MUST end!”
As no Indian wanted to be burnt alive in their beds that morning, the sheer heat of such a hateful and racially inciting message got everyone to an early start: “What’s going on with that buffoon?,” everyone asked. Ebrahim Gangat managed to interview Mfeka on CII, and Dr. Faizel Suliman of SAMNET also managed to pull together various stakeholders to address this issue in Durban which seems to have just popped out of the blue for many. Many local and overseas ‘Ulema also offered their advice on the situation, some of whom predicted the occurrence of “dark clouds looming on the horizon” some 30 years ago already. For now, the situation seems to be under control, but everyone is tensed.
The situation being temporarily under control for now does not mean that the burning issues that led to such hateful remarks have disappeared. No, it rather affords us a chance to seriously address the underlying issues. If they are ignored this time, the next time round there will be no newspaper headlines to alert us. We certainly do not want a repeat of the Cato Manor riots of 1949 whence Indian landlords were accused of rent-hikes and forced overcrowding of Africans. The riots sparked off on 13 January 1949 when an Indian stallholder on Grey Street caught an African boy stealing. He was punished for the offence. In response, Africans started looting Indian residences and businesses. In consequence, Indian landowners lost their properties to African shack lords and traders. The riots continued with mobs roaming Cato Manor, viciously assaulting Indian residents. There were 6 000 shacks in the area that housed between 45 000 – 50 000 people. It took the authorities two days to defuse the situation, which had resulted in 137 deaths and left several thousand critically injured. It was only in May 1980 that the area was gazetted for Indian occupation again, but 1985 again was the scene of vicious anti-Indian riots in Durban. Mfeka’s threats pointed towards these two incidents – if Indians were looted and assaulted in the past, the same can happen to them in the future, only on a larger scale.
Seeds of the Situation
Outwardly, it seems that the inciteful remarks by Mfeka, an outstanding entrepreneur and board member of many enterprises, seems to be racially motivated and aimed at only enriching himself, but let us play the ball, and not the man, on this one. Theatrics aside, on the ground, our African brothers have made some serious allegations against Indian Muslims which need to analyzed. These basically fall into three broad categories:
1) Muslim Charities: Our African brothers lament the fact that Muslims collect huge sums of money in their name, and then distribute these mostly overseas. Many a time, a great show is made of it in the media, whilst the locals are afflicted with grinding poverty. In addition, many members of these charities spend colossal amounts of money in travelling and accommodation alone – money which can be better utilized locally. They wish that government should seize control of all Muslim NGOs, including halaal certifying bodies like SANHA and MJC, so that the monies collected be channeled to them via their own structures;
2) Unfair Labour Practices: This seems to be the most serious, and levlled at all Indians, not only Muslims. Our African brothers allege that many Africans employed by Indians are grossly underpaid – some as low as R27- a day. Many are verbally abused, sexually exploited, never given proper contracts and unfairly dismissed on short notice. Some are never paid their dues or given annual increases, whilst others are forced to offer sexual favours just to keep their job. Sometimes unrealistic expectations are placed on them like ridiculously long working hours and conforming to a certain dress-code when they cannot even afford normal clothing. Derogatory terms like “kaarya” are used when referring to them and they are fed with the left-over scraps from the previous day;
3) Control of Township Institutions: Although many Masjids and Madrasahs have been built in the Townships by Indian Muslims, they wield an iron fist over their administration. The local congregants have absolutely no say in their running, no donations is accepted from the locals, and nor can they do collections for their own Masjid. Even if they want to contribute a bar of soap, they can not do so. It’s also alleged that African Imams and Muezzins are paid a pittance too. In short, Indians regard African Muslims as incapable workers and potential thieves who need to be monitored all the time. These sentiments have become so inflamed that many individuals and organizations have ALREADY pulled out from the Townships and have left their structures to the locals to administer.
Are all the above grievances mainly due to jealousy at the affluence of some Indians, or is there some merit in them? This I leave for the reader to decide for themselves. If after introspection there are any shortcomings on our part, they need to be remedied immediately. But on the flipside, our African brothers have some serious misconceptions about Indian Muslims, which has led them to act and behave irrationally on many occasions. Generally, they regard all Indian Muslims as “Guptas” (super-rich), who owe them all the wealth they possess i.e. mentality of entitlement. They do not know that amongst Indians too, there are many who struggle just to make ends meet, and that wealth is a product of hard work. This analogy is then taken dangerously further: if the Indians do not willfully give up their wealth, they will either rob and murder them for it, or will pull a “Ugandan-style “Idi Amien” stunt on them and chase them out the land. Further, they erroneously think that if Indians can run a Masjid and feeding-schemes in their Townships, they have lots of spare cash lying around. Why should Indians do the collection, they can also do a collection and administrate their own structures?
To set the record straight, there are currently more monies being expanded locally amongst both the Muslim and non-Muslim population, than overseas. Feeding schemes, clinics, schools, religious institutes etc have been operated for dozens of years in SA. However, the painful lesson we learn from this is that true brotherhood and loyalty cannot be bought by hampers and millions alone. We have realized that charity is merely a device for alleviating the plight of the poor, but for genuine brotherhood, we need to have genuine sincerity, affection and humility – free of prejudice and racism. We need to live amongst the poor, marry amongst them, speak their language, share their troubles, and change our da’wah (missionary) strategies in order to rid the locals of their prejudices for their Indian brothers.
Further, sending charities overseas is not a sign of preferring others over the locals. Muslims believe in universal brotherhood, so man-made borders will not hinder them from helping their brothers as far afield as Japan or Haiti. One should not feel aggrieved if someone else is also being helped… we all equally make up the creation of God. Unlike tax, charities are a voluntary contribution, so the individual has a choice of where to donate as per Qur’anic injunction. The government has no jurisdiction on this area of spending.
As to the charge of unfair labour practices by Indians; some are guilty as hell, but this problem is not specific to Indians – it’s not a race issue. Many Indians ill-treat fellow Indians too, and exploit them to the bone. It’s a sickness of capitalism and greed, not race, and many have paid with their life for it. Africans also murder and ill-treat fellow Africans, and the economy of South Africa is still largely in the hands of the whites – it has never been dominated by Indians. Many an Indian businessman or housewife has been brutally murdered by their workers or domestic due to their foul tongue and exploitation. They paid the ultimate price for their evil practices, but the law must treat each case on its individual merit. Everyone, no matter what race, should be equal before the law.
As to the last charge, it must be known that people of the Townships often feel the worst brunt of poverty. As foreigners seek to survive in an environment of scarcity, the locals have come to regard everyone as their enemy: the Pakistanis are branded as evil due to their practice of car jamming/hijackings, ATM bombings, and marrying the locals and then dumping them. The Zimbabweans are being blamed for cable theft and house burglaries, the Somalis for being intolerant and running spaza shops wherein goods are sold at giveaway prices, and the Nigerians are accused of immorality due to their drug peddling, gold smuggling and prostitution houses. The racism displayed against Indians falls into these broader xenophobic tendencies.
Agreed, Indians are control-freaks. They would like to know exactly what their wives are doing at any second of the day, and they also want to control the social lives of their employees. Likewise, if they establish a Masjid, they would like to run it as per their desire – full strings attached. However, giving charity and building Masjids is an age-old ancestral tradition amongst them to keep Islam alive, not to control other nations. So if the Indian and the Black Committee cannot work in harmony, the Indians should gracefully cut the strings and back down as charities are given solely for the pleasure of the Almighty. No matter who runs the Masjid, the function of the Masjid should still continue.
Lastly, as our government fail to address the question of unemployment, rampant corruption, and mass poverty in South Africa, the masses will look to blame or attack any juicy fruit which may be within their reach. Let us emphasize with the poor, stop our dirty exploitative practices, and reduce our standard of living. Let’s drive a car for its drive, not its looks, and stay in a house for shelter, not to pronounce our status. Extravagance must be given up in all forms. Remember that sometimes money can be a curse, so let it not become such in this instance.