Mandela Day 2013 has come and gone, with countless South Africans honouring the great man on 18 July by giving of their time and talents in service to their fellow humans.  By reaching out to all South Africans, including his erstwhile enemies, Mandela prioritised nation-building, so why not continue to honour his legacy every day by placing it firmly back on the national agenda. Almost two decades after he became President our country remains fragmented and preoccupied with the notion of  group ‘differentness’  instilled by apartheid, which Mandela strove so hard to overcome. While lip service is paid to the concept of an African Renaissance, championed by his successor, Thabo Mbeki, the reality is that refugees from elsewhere on the continent are not, for the most part, welcome, and are targets of regular xenophobic-tinged attacks.   Race and ethnicity continue to dominate national discourse. In KZN the ethnic nationalism linked to political violence in the 1980s and 1990s remains a threat, and there is resentment of perceived privilege enjoyed by the sizeable population of Africans of Indian descent by a grouping of black /indigenous Africans.  In recent years the nation-building agenda of Nelson Mandela seems to have slipped from the national agenda.  Let’s revive it and make very day a Madiba Day.


South   Africa in the African context :myths and current realities

At an intellectual level support for an African Renaissance remains, marked by an annual festival.  Also popular are references to some supposed pan-African identity – which is often used to justify feudal institutions such as chiefship and fossilised customary law, [1]


Of course, despite some wistful thinking on the part of those promoting it, there is no evidence that a common African identity has ever existed.  As Ghanaian author Kwame Appiah notes ‘nothing should be more striking for someone without preconceptions than the extraordinary diversity of Africa’s peoples and its cultures’.[2] Ironically, as many African scholars now realise, contemporary ideas about some mythical African identity rest on colonial assumptions linking ‘darkest Africa’ with skin colour.  As academic V Y Mudimbe argues, the West has been ‘inventing Africa’ for centuries.[3] The extent to which the colonial notion that skin colour defines African identity has been internalised is evident in debates about the meaning of being African in South Africa, and in the use of the derogatory term ‘coconut’ for people who are accused of being too ‘white’. The use of the term ‘African’ remains contested along racial lines, with those complaining of supposed ‘Indian’ privilege saying they are not Africans but ‘Indians in the diaspera’.[4]


The reality is that the diversity of Africa has, historically, included that of a racial nature, as people from Europe and Asia have traded and mated with members of the indigenous population for many hundreds or thousands of years. Other forms of diversity include very different economic bases – ranging from foraging (hunter-gatherer) groupings to societies with a long history of urbanisation, and empires. Contrary to the arguments of those promoting traditional leadership, chiefship, is but one of a number of political institutions in Africa, and is certainly not unique to the continent. Nor is ancestral veneration linked to the emphasis on one line of descent a specifically ‘African’ phenomenon, being common elsewhere, including in Asia. In Africa it has continued to thrive, amidst widespread conversion to Islam and, more recently, to Christianity.


However, amidst this ‘extraordinary diversity’ there are also common ties which bind South   Africa to the rest of the continent, including historical trade and migratory routes, and the more recent history of shared colonial oppression. Also of great importance is the solidarity of countries all over the continent in supporting the struggles of the liberation movements against apartheid.  The extent of this solidarity is documented in the recently published volume in the Road to Democracy in South Africa series titled African Solidarity.[5]  Many of these countries paid dearly for their support for the liberation movements, including through the military activities of the South African Defence Force in the war against the liberation movements in other African countries, and the economic ravages which accompanied this war – including the SADF’s role in the international illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn and the destruction of wildlife which accompanied it, detailed in the report of the Kumleben Commission of Enquiry in 1996.


Despite the lip service to pan-Africanism, there are serious concerns in human rights circles about the treatment meted out by the Department of Home Affairs to those fleeing the threat of harm in other African countries, especially since changes to the law in 2011. Refugees from polarised, conflict ridden countries such as the DRC and Burundi, tell of being treated rudely by officials who do not follow due legal procedures, and living with the ever-present threat of imprisonment and summary deportation. Amnesty International is among those expressing fears that moves by this government department violate South Africa’s international and domestic obligations towards asylum seekers, and deny them their much needed international protection.


The hostility faced by many foreigners living in communities all over South Africa also belies political rhetoric about shared African identity and solidarity. This hostility frequently erupts into violence and murder, with perpetrators generally operating with impunity.  One factor mentioned is the apparent economic success of some of the businesses run by foreigners – especially Somalians – who, through their shops, provide a service to community members. Instead of channelling resentment into healthy business competition, the success of hard working foreigners is used as a pretext for attacks, many with clear xenophobic overtones.  The hostility is often overt, as in a statement by The Greater Gauteng Business Forum (an association of small shop owners) : ‘They are here to destroy local business and people, particularly local shop owners, are boiling with anger’[6]


The legacy of divide-and-rule in colonial and apartheid South Africa

An apparent resurgence of ‘tribalism’, and, in KZN, what is perceived as ‘anti Indian’ sentiments among certain sectors of black/indigenous African society, must be situated within both historical and current politico-economic context.


Apartheid South   Africa was aptly described by historian Leonard Thompson[7] as a ‘pigmentocracy’, with levels of privilege assigned on the basis of skin colour.  One manifestation of this policy was the geographical separation of the races, with cities like Durban having Indian and ‘coloured’ zones providing ‘buffers’ between the white overlords and the black Africans. Education for the different races was perceived to be similarly stratified – the best for whites and the worst for indigenous Africans, with that for ‘coloureds’ and Indians in between. With few exceptions (such as the historic ties between the Natal Indian Congress and the ANC) physical separation of races was accompanied by social separation and isolation – especially after the implementation of the Group Areas Act in formerly mixed areas such as Cato Manor in Durban..


Together with these racial divides, it was, above all, the homeland policy which entrenched and reinforced ethnic divisions among the indigenous population (even Soweto was divided into ‘tribal’ zones). The apartheid edifice was built on the colonial policies of geographically defined tribal reserve areas (which became the Bantustans), indirect (top down) rule through politically controlled chiefs, and the standardisation of languages from similar regional, unwritten dialects. The cut off point separating isiZulu from isiXhosa, for example, was the political boundary between what was then the colony of Natal from the Eastern Cape.


In what is now KZN (prior to 1994 the province of Natal and the Bantustan of KwaZulu, which were inextricably entwined) all black Africans, regardless of historical origin and culture, were designated Zulu, and decreed citizens of KwaZulu.  Many of these people had never been subjects of the Zulu kingdom, with its heartland north of the uThukela River, tens of thousands (at least) having fled the kingdom and the area south of the uThukela during the military forays of Shaka and Dingane, returning once these raids had ceased.  The far north of the province (Ingwavuma and Tongaland) had never been part of the kingdom; they were annexed by the British government only in the late nineteenth century. Nor had the Bacas, whose membership straddles southern KZN and the Eastern Cape, ever been part of the kingdom. The sizeable Hlubi community in KZN continues to fight for acknowledgement of its distinct identity.  All of these people were decreed Zulus and made citizens of the KwaZulu Bantustan.


It was twentieth century events – primarily political – which would shape and consolidate the Zulu identity which exists today. In KwaZulu this identity was reinforced in schools (including through a special ‘Ubuntu-Botho’ syllabus) and (as in other societies) the invention of traditions celebrating Zuluness.  The success of the divide-and-rule strategy was evident by the 1980s, with research showing the dominance of views of personal identity as ‘Zulu’ rather than as ‘black’ (as in being oppressed) or South African.  This identity had also become heavily politicised, with ‘Zulu’ being linked to being a supporter of Inkatha, and Xhosa/Pondo linked to the ANC. These labels featured conspicuously in the State-sponsored political violence which claimed thousands of lives in the latter 1980s and 1990s (documented in detail in early (then) Natal Monitor reports.


As a legacy of the recent past, these narrow ethnic identities continued to feature in post-1994 political discourse, seemingly becoming more conspicuous in recent years. Following the removal of Jacob Zuma as Deputy President in 2005, and the corruption charges subsequently brought against him, Zuma’s supporters rode the bandwagon of Zulu ethnicity (e.g sporting ‘100% Zulu boy’ T-shirts when he appeared in court). Speaking in April 2013, at the launch of Volume 6 of the ‘Road to Democracy’ series on the liberation of South Africa, former President Mbeki expressed concern about the pervasiveness of ‘tribalism’, and slogans such as ‘100% Venda’, or ‘100% Tswana’ . During recent political campaigning in Limpopo province, Deputy ANC Chairperson, Cyril Ramaphosa, was asked whether he was ‘Ndebele or Zulu’.[8]


In KZN Zulu identity is reinforced by annual cultural festivities which are mixtures of reworked old and newly invented traditions – such as new public rituals linking the female deity Nomkubulwana to virginity testing (formerly the domain of female family members). These include the annual Reed Dance and First Fruits ceremony led by the Zulu monarch, who has also purportedly ‘revived’ the custom of circumcision for young men supposedly done away with by King Shaka (there is no real evidence to substantiate this assertion).  There are also constant references to the ‘Zulu nation’ (despite a nation being a political unit, and South Africa being a republic), and plans are afoot to erect a giant statue of King Shaka, to rival international landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, on the banks of the uThukela River..  Leading educationist, Professor Jonathan Jansen, correctly points out that the introduction of a mandatory course in Zulu for all students at the University of KZN may encourage Zulu cultural nationalism[9] (and Zulu speaking students on this campus have exhibited ethnic chauvinism towards black African students from elsewhere in the country in the recent past)


Since the establishment of the KwaZulu homeland, it had been Inkatha (IFP) which had actively promoted Zulu culture, and used it as a political platform. In the 2009 national elections the party lost ground in KZN to the ANC – a loss apparently linked to the latter party being led by a Zulu president. Crucial cabinet portfolios nationally – police, security, and justice – are occupied by Zulu-speakers, one of whom bears prime responsibility for the notorious Protection of State Information (secrecy) bill.[10]


There is nothing wrong with pride in ethnic identity, provided it does not become entangled with competition for economic or political resources (as this province – and the Witwatersrand area – learnt to its cost in the early 1990s). The potential for increased tribalisation of ANC politics will need close watching in the run up to national elections in 2014 – particularly given the tendency of some ANC representatives to cast political or civic opponents in ethnic terms. Since the 2009 elections housing activists in informal settlements, including Abahlali baseMjondolo have been cast as ‘Xhosa’ trouble makers, as have COPE supporters in politically contested areas.  In recent struggles around housing in the Cato Crest shack area in Durban, ANC representatives in leadership positions are accused of being ‘AmaPondo’ (from Eastern Cape – Mandela is Pondo) who are taking houses away from Zulus. It is ironic that twenty years ago the label ‘Pondo’ was used in attacks against the ANC in this province.


Anti-Indian rhetoric in KZN

In recent months public statements by a grouping named Mazibuye African Forum (which claims to draw members from different political parties) has generated debate in the media about its perceived anti-Indian sentiments. The Forum claims that the target of its criticism is the economic system.


The basis of these public utterances is a document titled ‘Economic Quagmire in KwaZulu-Natal : Socio-Economic Injustices in KwaZulu-Natal.’ While making sweeping statements without substantiation – some of which are historical oversimplifications or inaccuracies – this document does raise serious issues about the implementation of government policy, especially as it relates to Black Economic Empowerment and Employment Equity, which need serious debate.


The history of African-Indian relations in KZN as described in this document is a grossly oversimplified and, in places, inaccurate, one. For example, the ‘Durban Riots’ involving Africans and Indians in 1949, in which dozens of Indians and black Africans lost their lives, are said – without any supporting evidence – to have been instigated by Indians.  As the late, highly respected researcher, political activist and Mandela biographer, Professor Fatima Meer points out, these riots took place in a context of virulent anti-Indianism by white politicians (who used Indian-directed vitriol as a vote-catching exercise in the 1948 elections in which the Nationalist Party came to power).  It was also one of growing rapprochement at a political level between the African and Indian Congresses (which would have posed a threat to the white status quo) Following her own research several years after the riots she goes so far as to say these riots were ‘white instigated’ with whites actively engaged in encouraging attacks on Indians.[11]


Mazibuye also glosses over the extent of the poverty in which most Indians historically lived. Meer cites research carried out by the Department of Economics at the University of Natal, which estimated that in 1949 more Indians in Durban than Africans lived below the poverty datum line, with the South African Institute of Race Relations giving a figure of 70.7% (which should not be seen as minimising the dire poverty among black Africans too, which was to increase dramatically with the forced relocations of millions of people during the implementation of the homeland policy from the 1960s)


Also ignored by Mazibuye, in calling for some Indian land to be redistributed to black Africans, is the fact that some land farmed and/or owned by Indians in, e.g. Nonoti (near kwaDukuza, where it is used for shack farming), or in the Camperdown area (where tribal authorities have irregularly erected housing and a school) has already been illegally taken over since the 1990s.  Many Indians lost land they owned with the implementation of the Group Areas Act in the 1950s – and have not been assisted by the Land Claims Commission in recovering it, or obtaining compensation.  Indians who, together with black Africans, owned land in Inanda, were also forcibly driven out of the Ghandi settlement area in 1986 in what appeared clearly the work of the hidden hand of apartheid, since the government had been trying to move Indians off the land, where they lived amicably with black Africans, as part of its homeland policy. This land became the densely settled shack area of Bhambayi (from ‘Bombay’) [12]


Despite the inaccuracies and oversimplifications this document raises important issues about the government’s economic and employment policy which need far wider debate, and further research.


Regarding BEE, the fundamental argument is that this policy is working more to the advantage of whites, Indians and ‘honorary blacks’ such as Chinese. Among the aspects dealt with is the ‘fronting’ phenomenon which, it claims, is discouraging entrepreneurship because it is far easier to earn money in that way – or to acquire BEE shares and non-executive director positions – as opposed to starting up new majority black African owned businesses. The problem, it says, is compounded by discrimination against such businesses in the awarding of contracts, and government-owned development financing institutions, such as the KZN Growth Fund (such financing bodies, it claims, are controlled largely by whites and Indians)  Among other claims is that foreign-owned businesses exploit loopholes in BEE in South Africa, but tend to work with Indian owned, rather than African owned, ones’  The example of the Gupta family is used to argue that some foreigners have no real commitment to the development of South Africa, and stash the wealth generated in their countries of origin – so the loyalty to South Africa of such entrepreneurs is doubted.


That fronting is widespread is common knowledge – but there seems little political will to deal with it. For example, it is rife in the powerful security industry.  Provisions exist in the PSIRA (Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority) legislation allowing for proper forensic investigation of the finances of security companies, but there seems to have been little inclination to implement it.  The same could be said for most other sectors of the economy.[13]


Similarly, employment equity is seen as having benefitted white women and Indians more than black Africans, with disproportionate numbers of Indians, e.g. represented in government departments such as SARS (South African Revenue Services) – and in management positions in eThekwini municipality.  Empirical evidence is needed to support these assertions. However, from KZN Monitor research into policing, there are clear examples in which Indian SAPS members – some with apartheid security police backgrounds – have been unfairly advantaged in promotion relative to experienced and highly competent black African members and/or occupy proportionally more senior positions relative to black African members..  A recent example in the public domain concerns the employment by the Crime Intelligence Component of the SAPS of convicted drug dealer ‘Timmie’ Marimuthu and members of his family. Marimuthu holds the rank of colonel, far above – and out of all proportion – to the ranks held by many long serving black African members.


Conversely calls to ‘Africanise’ both the Department of Health, and the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KZN – have shown gross discrimination against highly qualified Indian professionals, in favour of those who are not necessarily well qualified for senior positions.  Ironically, such calls take place in the context in which it is known that the support of certain wealthy Indian business people is welcomed with open arms by both the governing party and a number of its representatives.


With justification, Mazibuye and its supporters claim that black African children often face discrimination in schools, in that they are disproportionally channelled into ‘Maths literacy’ classes in the years leading up to Matriculation examinations – which means that they are automatically excluded from applying for courses such as Engineering and Medicine when they complete school.  Because of the proximity of what were formally (in terms of the Group Areas Act) African, Indian and Coloured areas, and the perceived better education offered by, e.g. Indian schools, many of the schools in KZN which move children to ‘Maths literacy’ – unless their parents can pay thousands of rand for additional maths tuition – are former (under apartheid) Indian schools.  However, this channelling into maths literacy is said to be happening in schools all over South Africa.


Is the creation of ‘Maths literacy’ simply a cover for poor teaching of Maths in so many schools, with a view to boosting the pass rates of Mathematics? It certainly does discriminate against children whose parents cannot afford the extra maths lessons which so many middle-class parents arrange for their children.  Had such a move (or the ‘Zulufication’ of university teaching) been made by the apartheid government there would have been an outcry.


As with all criticism targeting ‘groups’, and the stereotypes which accompany it, Mazibuye Forum’s perceived anti-Indian sentiments not only contribute to polarisation along group/racial lines, but also obscure the countless examples of good working relationships between members of these groups, and the dedication of large numbers of Indians, including professionals such as doctors and lawyers, giving of themselves tirelessly in service of all South Africans, including black Africans.


The way forward

What steps should be taken to move away from this ‘group’ mentality, address existing tensions, and build the nation envisaged by our Constitution?


  • Maths literacy should be done away with, and resources poured into proper teaching of mathematics at a primary school level, which is the foundation on which secondary and tertiary level learning is based
  • Credible research is needed on the issues of BEE and Employment      Equity raised by Mazibuye. Empirical studies of organisational structure and culture in, e.g. eThekwini municipal governance (or other bureaucracies), looking at loci of power and authority, could be used to substantiate or repudiate allegations that it is Indians who exercise control
  • The need for an evaluation, followed by an amendment, of BEE      policy, is overdue – especially given what is already known about its      shortcomings. Mazibuye makes a number of detailed recommendations which  deserve serious consideration
  • There is an urgent need for ongoing public dialogue and debate, led      by respected leaders of black African and Indian communities – e.g.      professionals, academics, representatives of faith-based organisations about the issues raised by Mazibuye Forum
  • Political leaders should send out strong messages to their public      representatives, and to their constituencies to desist from using ethnic labels against their opponents, whether political or civic organisations
  • We need a concerted nation-building campaign to address the ills      referred to in this report
  • Government policy regarding refugees, and the way it is implemented by the Department of Home Affairs, must be urgently addressed – as should concerns that foreigners living among us do not enjoy sufficient protection from the police


KZN is richly blessed with cultural and religious diversity, and with hard-working, law abiding residents from many African countries (if there are criminals among them the law should deal with them, as it should with our home-grown criminals who operate with impunity).  Pride in ethnic identity is compatible with a broader nationalism (as e.g. Irish Americans), or with being a citizen of Africa and the world. The largely self educated Sol Plaatjie, a founding father of the ANC, travelled widely and was a lover of Shakespeare who used English to court his Xhosa wife. He also wrote a novel, Mhudi, celebrating Setswana custom and the relevance of an indigenous perspective.  Let us use the vision of Plaatjie and his fellow ANC founders to re-build and unify our fragmented country.    As under the Presidency of Nelson Mandela, this campaign should start at the top. Is the present government sufficiently committed to it? 

[1]see KZN Monitor ‘Colonial Mindsets and the Traditional Courts Bill : Implications for KZN’ regarding this topic

[2] Appia, Kwame IN my Father’s House London : Methuen 1992

[3] Mudimbe V Y The Idea of Africa  London : James Curry 1994

[4] Zweli Sangweni of the Mazibuyi African Forum, quoted in Daily News 16 July 2013   All racial labels used in South Africa have their own problems, and the term ‘black African’ is used here for convenience purposes because Monitor subscribes to the argument that African should be inclusive

[5] The Road to Democracy in South Africa : Volume 5 African Solidarity Part 1  SADET Pretoria : Unisa Press 2013

[6] Quoted in The Times 28 May 20013 ‘Send foreigners to camps’

[7] Leonard Thompson The Political Mythology of Apartheid New Haven : YaleUniversity Press 1985

[8] Reported in City Press 21 July 2013

[9] The Times  23 May 2013

[10] See KZN Monitor report on the Protection of State Information Bill

[11] Fatima Meer ‘African and Indian in Durban’  posted at

[12] Roy Ainslie and Mary de Haas ‘Bhambayi : The Third Force in Action’ in Schutte, Liebenberg & Minnaar (eds) The Hidden Hand : Covert Operations in South Africa, Revised Edition  Pretoria : Human Sciences Research Council 1998

[13] See KZN Monitor report ‘Privatised Policing and the Erosion of State Power’