Ebrahim Moosa – Opinion | 21 Jumadal Ukhra 1437/31 March 2016
I am a Muslim, a South African, an African, a citizen of the world, a human being.
Under normal circumstances, my identity is too rich and complex to be reduced to a single epithet. But as South Africa talks tough on racism, allow me to don my garb as a South African of Indian ancestry to tackle a dangerous stereotype that aught to be choked of the oxygen it is guzzling on to survive.
Our country is currently abuzz with allegations of ‘state capture’ in the wake of damning allegations of the shenanigans by the Gupta family, and the seemingly cosy relationship our President Zuma enjoys with them.
These contacts, it is alleged, are exercising undue influence over presidential, high level appointments and government contracts for their own benefit. As such, for many in South Africa, the relationship between President Zuma and the Gupta family has become the face of corruption.
The outrage has sparked a deluge of analyses, the coining of buzzwords such as ‘Zuptas’, and the trending of hashtags such as #Guptagate and #GuptasMustFall.
It has also prompted ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe to instruct all party members with information on the alleged Gupta influence to come forward with supporting information.
There is evidence of some groundswell of societal resolve in confronting the tentacles of this menace.
But, there is also a worrying under-current.
“We’re not going to allow a South Africa that is sold over a plate of curry‚” EFF leader Julius Malema said at a press briefing on February 05‚ in a reference to the perceived political influence being wielded by the Gupta family.
Back in 2013‚ under a cloud of similar allegations facing the President, Malema said: “Zuma sold SA out for a plate of curry”.
A Facebook posting that garnered hundreds of shares in March with the caption: ‘ Gup-Gup…this is too deep…’ erroneously labelled Yunus Chamda, a South African Indian former mayor and servant of the people in the Vaal, as a Gupta, as he posed alongside former President Nelson Mandela and now Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Other memes doing the rounds online quipped that it were the Guptas that hooked Mandla Mandela up with his Cape Malay bride.
In 2013, ANC Newcastle Mayor Afzul Rehman was confronted with the remark: “Hey, Gupta, what are you doing here?”, from a Road Traffic Inspectorate officer when seeking to renew his driving license.
Afzul initially submitted a high level complaint, but subsequently withdrew it after receiving what he deemed to be a satisfactory apology.
“This is a case of service to the community. Civil servants need to understand and be made aware that it is important to respect the community. It disturbed me that there are still members of the public that do not regard Indians as South Africans. I have received open letters addressed to me by people who I believe do not understand the history of this country and the history of the Indian people”, said the mayor at the time, explaining why he took the comment so seriously.
The common denominator in all of these instances, is that those on the receiving end of the Gupta slur were all perceived to be Indians, or at least deemed to have some affiliation with them.
Some would dismiss many of the above as specimens of innocent humour and accuse their detractors of being hypersensitive. But as communication strategist Sarah Britten notes, the power of the truly brilliant insult is that it appears totally innocuous on the surface, while delivering a lethal “punch to the solar plexus.”
Taking issue with Malema’s slur in particular, she argues that coming from such a powerful figure, someone who is set to influence South African politics for many years to come, the comment simply cannot be allowed to fly.
“Curry,”she writes, “is a metonym for an entire set of cultural practices, associations, assumptions and prejudices. What Julius Malema says matters. And what he gets away with saying matters even more.
“Letting his comments slide is a signal that certain types of prejudice are fine – depending on who expresses them. This is the world we create, tacitly, every day, and the world we end up despairing over because we paid no attention at the time.”
Indians have been part of the tapestry of South African life since 1860, and continue to play a prominent role in our colourful democracy.
It is undeniable that some Indian people did indeed enjoy the special treatment meted out by the apartheid government in an attempt to “divide and rule”. However as Verashni Pillay comments, a sizeable and influential group in fact rebelled and joined forces with the ANC to lead the country to liberation.
“Ultimately,” she says, “Indian South Africans are like any other South Africans, and indeed human beings. Some are open-minded, some are not, some have fought against racism with all their might while some are racist themselves. There is not a particularly higher incidence of racism among the Indian community, I would imagine, even if one were to try to measure something like that.
“Indeed, the Reconciliation Barometer of 2012 (page 44 of this PDF) found that Indian South Africans were the most likely to socialise across the racial divide, and scored the highest on every question where racial integration was concerned.”
As a young South African of Indian origin, I will have no qualms about being called a Dadoo(from Dr. Dadoo of the 3 Doctors Pact, who persuaded the Indian community to link its destiny with that of the African majority), a Kathrada(from the famous Mandela confidant and Rivonia trialist), a Meer(from Fatima, the leading anti-apartheid voice and champion of the underclasses), or a Suliman(after the world renowned humanitarian).
I however take every objection to being defiled as a Gupta, moreso for all the wrong reasons.
As compatriots, we should realise, that our enemy cannot be simplistically reduced to one family, or even worse, an entire race. Rather, it is the deep culture of corruption that needs to be tackled.
Corruption, as Eusebius Eusebius McKaiser reminds us, requires two to tango: One person does the corrupting, the other person allows themselves to be corrupted. This is also true of political parties and state institutions that get captured by nefarious forces.
Hence, he argues that the Guptas are a useful but dangerous distraction for the ANC.
“The ANC can pretend that there is a single narrative about what is wrong with our politics and call it Guptagate. But that is a lie, and one that vigilant citizens must refuse to accept.”
The Gupta’s, as Ebrahim Fakir points out, are “merely a ruder, cruder, brasher and browner version (but maybe less violent version) of Rhodes, Barnato, Rupert’s, Oppenheimer’s, Bradley’s and a legion of other business families, and businesses in general – who try (and frequently succeed) in influencing appointments, policies and regulation to their advantage.”
This collective, as well as the people who allow them such inordinate influence should be challenged.
But at no stage should this legitimate fight be co-opted to become a proxy battle used to demean an established component of South African citizenry.
For that, is racism – and racism in itself, is a most noxious form of corruption.