By Juanita Chitepo
I was born in South Africa, classified ‘Indian’ by the Apartheid Government, schooled with and educated by Indians. I still maintain a family home, in what used to be and largely remains a Group Areas Act Indian settlement, in Northdale, Pietermaritzburg.
When I saw the news of Jackie Shandu’s comment, ‘one Indian, one bullet’, I was not filled with anger or moral outrage. I did not respond with shock or horror. My heart sank, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of utter helplessness in the face of what I knew was going to be a backlash of mammoth proportion against this passionate young scholar and activist. I believe Shandu was attempting to express a National and unspeakabable grief (that is being suppressed and ignored in a most inhumane way) through his use of a turn of phrase that is symbolic in South Africa’s history of protest. This is, in my opinion, the legitimate use of artistic and literary device to vocally express that struggle and the lack of actual power or, as in this case, weapons.
To truly understand and obtain a holistic grasp of South African Indian racial prejudice of the kind that led to the Phoenix Massacre, and all manner of violence against Black bodies around the Province, including my town and area, one must have lived, breathed and moved among the ‘race’ as I have. But most importantly one must be seen as ‘wanting to belong’ to this cultural group, racial category, classified community, as apart from, and even against, other so-called ‘communities’, a term that seems to have become an accepted and constitutionally sanctioned euphemism for race. To associate with Blackness beyond any perfunctory level of interaction, such as labour, business or casual social niceties, is unusual, especially for Indian women. Inter-marriage is an ultimate taboo and will have you disowned, ostracised and isolated if not declared publicly insane.
It is difficult to be intellectual about what to me felt like an attempted genocide of Blacks by so-called ‘Indian Communities’. Discourse around Asian Anti-Black racism in Africa and abroad is by no means new. That Gandhi used racist notions of cultural superiority to plead the case of Indians as deserving better treatment and greater freedoms than their Black counterparts to the British is similarly well documented. To deny now, as absurd and untrue, that cultural, economic, socio-political and linguistic prejudices and behaviours kindled and nurtured by the Apartheid state and perpetuated beyond it by the permanence of the Group Areas Act as the ultimate social and racially motivated social engineering experiment, has led to this bloody moment in South Africa’s violent history, is National mental illness and tragic delusion.
I am terrified of Indian racism in South Africa. I don’t remember an exact moment of any realisation of it, but the recollection of my fear of it began as a child. It was triggered by sight, sound and general sense. The tones of voice and body language reserved for Blacks. The jobs reserved for Blacks. The language reserved for Blacks. The dishes and utensils reserved for Blacks. With the privilege of an educated and politically involved family, as well as by virtue of being in the Christian minority among Hindu’s and Muslims, my inter-racial social interactions were unusual compared to my peers. We socialised to some extent with people of all races and class. There was no overt racism in our household (which is not to say that it did not exist), which made it all the more complex and difficult to comprehend when confronted with the extremities of it among peers. Apartheid was ultimately a lived reality based on difference that we wore like second skin.
The late eighties ushered in a new era of discourse in Indian High Schools. Suddenly we were discussing the potential repercussions of a New South Africa in which we would have to integrate or at the very least assimilate. The idea seemed inconceivable. My most outstanding recollections of those debates were that the boys were up in arms that their half-clothed sisters would be at the mercy of Black predators at the local Olympic Swimming Pool. Any dissention was seen as lunacy and sexual deviance. General racist slurs, the gruesome sexual dehumanisation of the Black female body in casual conversation, the construction of the Black male body as representative of physical threat and sexual violence was the everyday stuff of my teenage years.
Thirty years later, the more things have changed the more they have stayed the same. I have developed a near phobia of leaving my yard for fear of what I will see or hear beyond it. They WE us THEM decent blacks LOOTERS stupid illiterate useless K……For the duration of the period in which so-called communities felt the need to patrol the suburbs armed with artillery, knives, sporting equipment, garden and household cleaning implements as well as Bob whistles in defence of their lives and property, I lurked awake, night after night, sick with fear that the men marching up and down past my house would get what they desperately wanted – A Black to kill, preferably a Zulu, but any would do. People died here. But it wasn’t a massacre and we’ll never know. People died all over. And we’ll never know. But we do know about Phoenix.
When Jackie Shandu made his statements on the stairs of Durban City Hall last week, I had yet to have seen any public comment or media coverage that located the Phoenix Massacre, or any other racially motivated violence in the Province, within the context of deep-seated entrenched Apartheid racism among White, Coloured and Indian so-called communities. The prevailing narrative was one of stubborn defence. While the bloodletting continued unabated the SA Human Rights Commission, the DA, African Democratic Change, The South African Hindu Maha Sabha and eThekwini Municipality said and did nothing. The contrasting response of the public to so-called Hate Speech as opposed to Hate Action speaks volumes of the hypocrisy upon which this Democracy is based.
Jackie Shandu retracted his statement for obvious reasons, made as they were ‘in the heat of the moment’. Had he not, I would support him anyway. If Mr Shandu is to be held up to the Nation as an example of the consequences of ‘hate speech’ where are the warrants of arrests for the hundreds of Indians, Whites and Coloureds (including teenagers) who filmed and posted to social media their hateful, barbaric incitements to murder (and in at least one instance rape) Blacks in so-called defence of property? Until that time, when the daily humiliation, deprivation and dehumanisation of Black Africans by Indians (and other minorities) is boldly acknowledged and addressed at its root I will stand by my support of both Mr Shandu and his statement and continue to reject the racist identity of ‘Indianness’ foisted upon me by both the Apartheid and current government, as an abomination and embarrassment. Bite that bullet.