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20/06/2018 04:59 SAST | Updated 20/06/2018 04:59 SAST

From One Indian To Another: Malema Is Not Entirely Wrong

But that doesn't mean his race-baiting is responsible, either.

Julius Malema, leader of the EFF.
Sumaya Hisham / Reuters
Julius Malema, leader of the EFF.

Dear South African Indians,

Let's not pretend.

Let's not pretend that some of our small business owners will not employ a black person in any role greater than that of a common labourer; paid a pittance to sweep floors, lay bricks or pack shelves.

Let's not pretend that some of our mothers do not refer to black domestic workers as "the girl" — this title for a woman who has a family, a second name, and who got out of bed at 4am so she could leave her township to arrive at your suburban home three hours later.

Let's not pretend that some of us do not pay these domestic workers below minimum wage, watch them with a hawk-eye just in case they steal from our homes, and lend them to our neighbours like a common household appliance.

Let's not pretend that some of us do not refer to black people as "they". Let's not pretend that in some of our communities we don't have colloquial, mostly derogatory, titles for black people. Let's not pretend that some of us don't believe we could do our black manager's job better, and that he or she was only appointed "because of BEE".

And let's not pretend that Julius Malema is entirely wrong.

RAJESH JANTILAL via Getty Images
Leader of the South African radical-left opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema delivers a speech during a mass rally marking the party's fourth anniversary on July 29, 2017 at the Curries Fountain Stadium in Durban. / AFP PHOTO / RAJESH JANTILAL (Photo credit should read RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/Getty Images)

READ: Malema Hits Out At Indians Again: 'The Majority Of Indians Are Racist'.

When the leader of the EFF said the majority of Indians are racist and see themselves on a notch above blacks, I watched as a storm arose on social media. We shouted, we defended ourselves, we insulted; but we did not self-reflect.

It's been three days since Malema made those remarks at a Youth Day rally, and in that time, I contemplated whether I should pen this letter. I took time to critically look back at my upbringing in KwaZulu-Natal, my family and my friends.

It was only two weeks ago, sitting at a restaurant on North Beach in Durban, that I overheard two Indian men talking about how "this country is only for them now" and how "at least everything worked during apartheid".

The reality is, for most of us, we all know an Indian uncle or an aunty whose made such remarks. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, as an Indian, you have probably never been to, or have any connection to Durban or KZN — where arguably, this sort of thing is most rife.

READ: There Is A Dark Underbelly Of Prejudice In The Indian Community.

Perhaps some of us turn a blind eye because our culture and upbringing have normalised a type of subtle racism. But racism doesn't have to be blatant for it to be real.

Racism is quietly giggling at the black pupil in your high school class when they battled to read that paragraph; racism is holding your child tighter when walking among black people in the CBD; racism is leaving that gap between you and a black person when sitting on a bench.

This behaviour exists in our communities and we must accept it, confront it, and abolish it — before another generation inherits it.

Now onto you, Mr Malema, the "commander-in-chief" of the red berets.

I accept that I am just a journalist, whose words may only reach a hundred people. Your words sir, reach thousands, if not millions. With that comes a responsibility, in an already tense coexistence between races in South Africa, not to fan the flames of division.

When you say most Indians are racist, you speak of a majority: 50 percent plus one. There is no research, no fact and no credibility behind your sweeping statement — I've checked.

READ: Malema Says Most Indians Are Racist. The Facts Say Otherwise.

I understand that you are a politician — a good one at that — and the EFF's biggest voting constituency is black South Africans. You speak to the impoverished, the unemployed, the uneducated, the masses. And they listen. Turning one race against another will not help — and it has never helped, anywhere in the world, ever.

Justifying your claim by using the notion that Indians do not marry blacks as evidence is also problematic. Culture and religion are much more responsible for this. Marrying out of your religion is frowned upon in some traditional Indian homes; let alone marrying outside your colour or within the same gender. Trust me, as a Hindu man, I've courted a Muslim woman, and it did not go down well with her family.

Such intolerances followed us when our ancestors arrived here. There is a caste system in India by which you are judged by your surname and the socioeconomic rank that comes with it — some of us Indians still judge one another other by these standards in South Africa today.

The truth then, Mr Malema, is that most Indians are not racist. But alas, some of us are. It's the same way some blacks, some whites, and some coloureds are also racist.

Racism should not be blamed on one race group whenever the political atmosphere is ripe for it. It is an epidemic that crosses race, gender, age and creed.

As a leader in society, you have pointed out a problem (even if it is an exaggerated one) without a solution.

South Africa needs solutions from its leaders; we know what our problems are.