JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s controversial Indian-rant politician must curry favour with facts. 

Indians in South Africa are caught up in an identity crisis which controversial fringe opposition party leader Julius Malema often tried to exploit through his secret curry fetish.

The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ is always mouthing off angrily on South Africans of Indian origin in a distasteful manner. While it unfairly raises alarm with some fearing him morphing into the despised Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Malema has more charm and intellect than the former cook who is said to have murdered between 300,000 to 500,000 people before dying in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2003.

But Malema needs to curb his inner “extra-hot” spice with a good dose of facts on who controls the economy, plus, an understanding of the history of those who contributed to the struggle. After all, with respect, he was in diapers when the struggle was being intensified in South Africa and a mere 13 when democracy arrived.

Thankfully, the awful legacy of Amin remains safe from our shores. This is no thanks to Malema. But to the Constitution that South Africa has in place. It was born out of the sacrifices of African, white, Indian and coloured people united against apartheid. It is here for us all.

And it allows, Malema the freedom to continue with his monotonous bluster brought on by the apparent absence of curry in his tastebuds. But it does not alter the fact that Indian South Africans, as well as coloured counterparts, contributed to the struggle against apartheid.

Regardless of his entertaining, if not irritating, bluster, their contributions will not be erased. The website SA History Online which captures the history of all South Africans in the struggle would bring one up to speed if one does not know anything about our struggle history.

South Africa is home to the largest population of people of Indian descent in Africa, at 1.3 million, mainly in Durban.

When the heat is on within the party or people associated with it, as depicted by the news website, Daily Maverick’s investigation into VBS Bank unearthing the brother of Floyd Shivambu (Brian Shivambu’s) secrecy over accepting then agreeing to pay back the money. It has become a habit of Malema to divert attention from the real story. Indian South Africans remain an easy target. Of course, everybody loves a good curry. But not everyone is able to make one, hence the constant unpalatable moans of Malema? He must feel deprived.

He spews bile when cooking stories without key ingredients, i.e., facts, then it amounts to much ado about nothing. Malema spoke about Indians and coloured running companies. While they do, his view is largely exaggerated. Here is one of the reasons why. Annually, the Sunday Times Top 100 companies are celebrated with much fanfare. But the top ten is headed mainly by white South Africans with an increasing number of Black African South Africans assuming power in the overall one hundred.

The best ten corporate guns in South Africa, according to the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies list for 2020, is DRD Gold, headed by Niel Pretorius. He was followed by Harmony Gold in Randfontein, under Peter William Steenkamp, and in third spot; Kumba Iron Ore, the fourth largest iron-ore producer in the world and the largest in Africa, led by Themba Mkhwanazi. Up in fourth is Gold Fields with Chris Griffith, replacing Nick Holland at the helm in April 2021.

Telematics firm Cartrack Holdings rides into fifth place with Isaias Jose Calisto (Zak) as its global CEO, followed by AngloGold Ashanti in sixth place with Kelvin Dushnisky in the hotseat since September 2018.

In seventh, Anglo American Platinum under Natascha Viljoen, the only woman in the top ten, before eight spot is occupied by African Rainbow Minerals, founded by Patrice Motsepe, but led by CEO Mike Schmidt in eight, with Pan African Resources PLC Jacobus Albertus Loots in nineth and Northam Platinum Limited led by Glyn Lewis CEO rounding off the top ten.

Where are the Indian and coloured South Africans? One cannot talk about radical economic transformation when the status quo in the corridors of corporate power is not challenged while Malema goes hungrily in search of the same samoosa politics made famous by the apartheid rulers who sold us for plate of breyani.

Another reason why Malema is wrong, according to the 20th Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) Annual report 2019–20 released in August 2020, white South Africans made up 65% of top management positions. Indians held 10,3% of posts, while coloured South Africans were in 5% of leadership roles. African representation stood at 15%. So why the obsession with Indian and coloured South Africans when white numbers have been historically high? Any chance of EFF marching where it matters for economic transformation? It’s easier to go for the soft target.

Malema’s Indian rant is as nauseating as some diehard Indian South Africans professing India as their motherland. Many suspect that it is not based on fact but rather Malema’s hatred of Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, who was boss at the South African Revenue Services, when it was claimed that politics was at play in targeting him over his now settled tax challenges.

While it’s clear that Gordhan gives Malema indigestion, the question remains. Why is the EFF silent when majority of corporate South Africa are led by white-South Africans? It makes sense to target the elephant that cannot be dislodged in the room, thereby putting South Africa first, than letting the enmity with Gordhan detract?

Malema is a great orator, similar to the late infamous South African Indian politician they called the Bengal Tiger, one Amichand Rajbansi, who once famously quipped: “I’ll double cross that bridge, when I come to it.” The EFF leader has done many a Rajbansi-type flip-flop throughout his youthful political career. But if he’s serious about addressing racism, he should revisit 1981, the year he was born when 80% of Indian South Africans boycotted the tricameral elections because they opposed the exclusion of black Africans in the apartheid political system. Indian South Africans record of resistance is well-documented and won’t be suffocated by Malema-waffle without facts.

Malema was 13 when democracy was born. And agreed, 27 years later, the euphoria is gone. South Africa is far from the dreamy rainbow nation envisaged by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The blame for our woes ought not to lie just on Indian and coloured folk. As a collective, our country has failed. It is time Malema and the EFF to apply pressure on corporates, then turn their attention to our out-of-touch legislators, who must eradicate racist apartheid terms still being used to describe us, and then, join hands to ensure that all South Africans are headed towards a common identity as African people.

I, for one, am not Indian, never been to India, and while I acknowledge the heritage, South Africa is my home. Indian South Africans cannot have dual loyalties. I am South African. Every citizen should subscribe to our African identity. That’s why I insist that Malema come home for real curry and honest debate about how to shift the dial on racism and addressing the challenges that remains deeply ingrained in the psyche of ALL South Africans.

  • This article was first published in the Sunday Independent in South Africa and is republished with permission of the writer.